West Midlands Police has welcomed a national report into one of the most challenging areas of policing, namely how they deal with people suffering from mental ill health who are taken into custody.
The independent review, published by the HMIC, the Care Quality Commission and the Healthcare Inspectorate of Wales, calls for changes to ensure fewer people with mental health issues are detained in police custody.
Over the past three years, the force, together with local partners has changed the way it deals with people who suffer with mental ill health by transferring people to suitable places for treatment, rather than being put into a police cell.
There are now a number of dedicated places of safety across the West Midlands area, managed by the Mental Health Trusts, which house around 1,000 detained individuals each year. These places ensure that people suffering mental health illness are dealt with sensitively and appropriately and they are given the correct medical treatment.
The force’s lead for mental health issues, Chief Inspector Sean Russell, said; “The situation today is very different than it was just a few years ago, when the majority of those suffering a critical mental health episode would be taken to police cells for their own safety, due to the fact that there was nowhere else to take them. Considerable work has been undertaken by the force and local partners to place people suffering from mental health crisis in the best environment.”
He added, “There are still occasions when a police cell is used, but this is in exceptional circumstances when, for example, a serious crime has been committed. Public safety must still come first and sometimes the person may need to be taken into custody first before they can be assessed.”
The force is currently setting up a number of initiatives to ensure all front line and custody officers and staff have the correct training to be able to deal with people suffering mental health illness. This includes multi-agency training, so partners with experience can assist in this work and refresh officers around the powers, policy and procedure available.
The Police and Crime Commissioner, Bob Jones is this week holding a mental health summit with local authorities and partners to discuss mental health and will announce the launch of two specialist groups to further develop this area. This includes a West Midlands Police strategic mental health group which will be set up in the autumn and include the four trust areas in the West Midlands, together with representatives from local authorities to ensure best practice is shared.
There will also be a separate community reference group set up made up of service users and voluntary organisations that will raise the voice of people suffering mental health issues and influence police procedures.
CI Russell said: “It is critical that we continue to improve the way people with mental disorders are dealt with by police, as the issue creates significant demands on the police service and impacts on the local community. We have moved this on considerably over recent years and by working with partners and using the dedicated places of safety we can ensure these vulnerable people received the help they need. In most cases the incidents we respond too are a cry for help.
“It is important to mention that if a crime has been committed, the officers dealing will constantly review the circumstances and may continue with a criminal sanction if appropriate in consultation with CPS and health professionals.”