Call for action to curb reliance on police for mental health response

Police investigation centre at Martlesham Heath Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Police investigation centre at Martlesham Heath Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Fundamental change has been requested to curtail the “unreasonable” time taken up by police on mental health issues.

Tim Passmore, police and crime commissioner for Suffolk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Tim Passmore, police and crime commissioner for Suffolk Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Suffolk’s police and crime commissioner backed the findings of a report into society’s growing reliance on the service as the “first port of call”.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found forces were being used as the service of default in responding to people with mental health problems.

A report entitled ‘Policing and Mental Health: Picking Up the Pieces’ confirmed concerns held by Tim Passmore since his election in 2012.

“An unreasonable amount of time is taken up dealing with mental health matters by police, which should be the agency of last resort, and I’m pleased this report has confirmed just that,” he said.

“I believe this constabulary has a track record second to none for helping people in difficulty, but society has to stop using the police as the service of first call.

“I don’t think money has been the only cause. Governments of all colours have treated mental health as a pariah status for too long, but I think we’re beginning to see a wind of change.

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“We need everyone to join in. If it means pooling budgets, so be it.

“We can’t undo what has been done but, from our position, we have put funding in to help with mobile and control room-based triage.”

In the year ending March 31, Suffolk police detained 347 people under the Mental Health Act.

In 2017, the force received more than 4,300 emergency calls for which psychological problems were deemed to be a factor.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said officers responded with care and compassion, but that people in crisis needed expert support that can’t be carried out in the back of a police car or in a cell.

“All too often, the system is failing people when they most need help,” she added.

“This is not a problem that the police alone can solve. Other services need to stop relying on the 24/7 availability of the police.

“We have grave concerns about whether the police should be involved in responding to mental health problems to the degree they are.

“Fundamental change is needed urgently in the way those with mental health problems are supported by the state.

“The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call.”

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