Sussex PCC's response to the HMICFRS Mental Health and Policing report
Independent scrutiny of policing is an essential part of maintaining public confidence. Today’s HMICFRS report into Policing and Mental Health comes at a crucial time for Sussex Police as it continues to prioritise neighbourhood policing and begins its largest recruitment drive in the last 10 years.
The public have seen changes to the deployment of officers and PCSOs at the frontline of policing and their confidence in Sussex Police is naturally more influenced by what they see rather than by the huge amount of policing that goes on unseen, tackling serious crime and handling incidents of mental health.
It is reassuring that the report recognises that police forces across the country, unlike their local partners, are a 24/7 service which are regularly and often unfairly relied upon to ‘pick up the pieces’. It also rightly raises concerns around the impact on police resources when responding to mental health call outs.
To be specifically commended as a Force that is both equipped to identify people with mental health problems at first contact and one that offers an effective street triage service is a real achievement and I commend Sussex Police for their efforts.
Sussex Police treats all calls it identifies as involving mental health issues as a priority. They have also been praised for good processes for assessing risk which helps control room staff make effective decisions. People experiencing a mental health crisis often require almost immediate assistance so putting in place a quick and effective first contact and referral system is crucial.
Street triage in Sussex Police has also expanded since the initial pilot project in 2013. A senior mental health nurse and a uniformed police officer in an unmarked car work late shifts Monday to Friday attending both 999 and 101 calls. Again, they can refer people to mental health services without the need for further assessment.
Sussex Police has put these measures and training in place because it has been necessary to do so, to safeguard those in crisis when the medical support they require is not available at that time.
I agree with the report when it highlights that 'people in crisis with mental health problems need expert support - that can't be carried out by locking them into a police cell.' In the last year, under section 136 of the mental health act, Sussex Police has not detained anyone in custody who is suffering from mental health issues, unless they have committed a crime. They are instead taken to hospital for a proper assessment.
Too often authorised ‘places of safety’ for mental health patients are stretched and have no beds available. I do not think the onus should be placed back on to our police force to transport patients to A&E and wait with them until the proper care can be given, which often takes hours.
As referred to in the report, this is a national crisis which should not be allowed to continue. There does need to be a fundamental rethink and urgent action taken to bolster our partners so they can properly prioritise their resources and relieve the strain they can place on policing.