A coroner has warned there is a “significant risk” for mental health patients who come into contact with the police when they are in a crisis.
This really is spelling out the obvious, but it’s nice that a coroner is finally coming out and saying it.
What worries me most is that it’s a coroner that is saying it. I keep hearing of cases here in the US where mental health patients are gunned down, even if the emergency calls specifically state that the individual is in crisis. I don’t know how similar things are in the UK, but it’s awful to think about. I sincerely hope that if I am in such a situation that nothing like that would happen to me.
Sometimes, though, things do work out well. I remember having a few G&Ts in a local pub when this semi-regular came in, and I asked him how his day went. He replied with something along the lines of “I had to talk a shotgun out of a guy’s hands.” Suffice it to say, he was drinking on my tab that night, and I’m glad that the police actually called in a qualified mental health professional rather than shooting first.
As I understand it, it’s a big problem here. While police officers aren’t routinely armed, there’s been a lot of cases, particularly with black men e.g. Sean Rigg, David Bennett (hi, racism), of unsafe restraint leading to death.
Approximately half of all deaths in or following police custody involve detainees with some form of mental health problem. A key way in which individuals with mental disorder may have contact with the police is when they are in a public place and are believed to be in need of ‘immediate care and control’. In these circumstances individuals can be detained by police officers under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and taken to a place of safety. A place of safety is defined as ‘hospital, police station, mental nursing home or residential home or any other suitable place’.
It has long been accepted that police custody is not a suitable place of safety. It has the effect of criminalising people who are in need of medical attention, can exacerbate their mental state, and in the most tragic cases can lead to deaths in custody. For the past twenty years it has been government policy that police custody should only be used as a last resort. Yet there has been no national data on the extent to which it has been used.
.There’s an interesting article on the issue here: Deaths in UK police custody between 1998/9 and 2008/9: 333. Officer’s convicted: none.