Once again policing and mental health is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Once again it’s as a result of police being called to someone behaving erratically in public – mental health issues suspected – police detain – restrain and …. stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
This time it’s Bedfordshire. Two years ago it was Avon and Somerset. Prior to that it was the Met, the West Midlands back in time force by force, incident by incident.
There is a criminal investigation ongoing regarding the most recent incident in Luton so I am going to steer well clear of speculating and commenting on the specifics.
When I read about the incident my initial reaction was “not again” but now I have had time to think about it – and get furious about it.
I had a long conversation with Inspector Michael Brown aka @mentalhealthcop today regarding the situation. I consider Michael a good and trusted friend, a mentor and an ally. The collective sounds of our heads banging on the tables in our offices could probably be heard in the next counties.
Michael then wrote this most splendid blog which is essential reading for all front line officers and supervisors. To avoid situations like those described above then follow the instructions in the blog. I cannot be clearer folks – it is absolutely critical that anyone making a detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 follows the tactical menu outlined in Michael’s blog.
It may not prevent the person ending up in police custody but, for damn sure, it will explore every other option first and provide a degree of protection for the detainee and the officers involved. It will save lives – and careers.
What frustrated me most during this afternoon’s conversation was the fact that we were having to have it – again.
Meanwhile, in sunny Manchester, the great and the good were busy discussing all manner of issues regarding custody and taser and restraint. Not three weeks ago I was in London discussing many of the same issues with Deputy Chief Constables and guests with the College of Policing. No doubt there will be further meetings and conferences in the coming months and years.
As utterly proud and honoured as I was to be invited to the College of Policing event (and you will no doubt remember my optimism in the blog I penned on the train home) the news from Bedfordshire was like a kick in the teeth.
The IPCC have work to do. After that the criminal courts may have work to do. Then PSD. Then the Coroner. Then the Civil Courts. This is likely to take years. Investigations are still rumbling on from several years back in other forces.
Meanwhile, the events of Luton are likely to be repeated somewhere else.
Then another force and more officers and another tragic individual’s family will go through the process all over again.
It seems to be happening – what – roughly every 18 months to 2 years and probably has been for the last 10 years or more.
The first question is this:
Are we any nearer actually doing anything about the issue?
There is no doubt that it is being discussed at a strategic level now. I have proof of that – I was there when it was discussed and it was pleasing – but this leads to the next question:
How many more conferences do we need to have before something changes?
What scares me is that this has been an issue for years. I have lost count of the number of prominent agencies and individuals and even independent commissions who have looked at this and come to the same conclusions.
The IPCC have been saying since about 2008 that a police station should not be a Place of Safety. It is now 2013.
In that time how many people have died?
How many more people need to say that the system is utterly broken before something actually changes?
Look at the circumstances of the many cases which have hit the headlines because of tragedy. How many have started with a simple call about someone running in and out of traffic? How many have then had police attend – detain – restrain and convey direct to a police station?
Where was the medical intervention? Where was the health based place of safety?
How can we have had so many carbon copy incidents without anything changing?
The problem as I see it, lies partly in the 43 force set up. What seems to be happening is that it takes a tragedy before something changes.
I know that West Mids have been on this journey post tragedy, I am sure that Avon and Somerset are travelling it and I know that Bedfordshire will very soon be taking that same painful route.
Having heard from Commander Christine Jones at the DCC event I know that the Met are also going through their own personal world of grief on the same subjects.
43 forces – 43 learning experiences. Some touched by tragedy – others not. Those so affected now doing something about it – those not yet touched maybe not yet placing it at the top of the agenda.
Meanwhile – people are dying.
Meanwhile – police officers who are being called to deal with situations way beyond their experience and training are facing criminal investigation when it all goes wrong.
Has anybody considered whether a corporate manslaughter investigation might be required for the relevant mental health trusts who may have failed to provide the adequate provision which meant that police officers had no option other than to restrain – detain and convey to custody?
I am frustrated. I am angry that Michael and I had to go over this again today. I am curious as to why the main noise on the subject seems to be coming from a few people on Twitter who, realistically, have limited influence.
Don’t get me wrong – the DCC event was hugely important and it was massively impressive to see and feel the momentum in the room. But – back in the real world – we all went home and another tragedy has occurred.
As it did 18 months before that – and 2 years before that etc etc.
It seems that the police have got the bit between their teeth on this to some extent. It is, at least, being discussed at the very highest level and there was absolutely no doubt of the sincerity with which DCC Rob Beckley wants to tackle this at a national level. Clearly Mr Beckley absolutely recognises the problems and I cannot thank and praise him enough for getting everyone together to discuss it.
I have no doubt that things WILL change – but the pace of change is frustrating. Not only is it frustrating but it is noticeable that the police are leading the charge on this.
Are we going to do this tragedy by tragedy – force by force – year by year or is it time for the most senior in the service to unite and DEMAND change. NOW!
Collectively point out why the system is broken and what needs doing about it – and – more specifically – what the NHS need to be doing about it.
This is a very dangerous business. Police officers are being placed in an impossible position and facing serious legal consequences when things, predictably, don’t go well. People are dying – not just getting injured – dying.
How many more?
How many more?
How – many – more?