When I was promoted to sergeant, I had to cover 24/7 duties for my area as a ‘response’ sergeant but I was also given a ‘patch’ – or ‘beat 36’ as it was imaginatively called. With my fellow sergeant we covered this diverse area, which included the ‘village centre’ of a diverse city suburb and a residential area with a massive burglary problem. We had our 12 cops and had to answer 999 calls and we had to provide ‘community’ policing – it would now be called ‘neighbourhood policing’ but it would be done by people who don’t also work 24/7 answering 999 calls.
The village centre had about a dozen pubs with some niche bistro restaurants as well as many very novel independent shops and it had a particular problem with the on-street consumption of alcohol by some middle-aged men. These guys could be found drinking a couple of 3 litre bottles of cider for breakfast and had very many complex alcoholism, poverty and housing problems. As I look back on it now, very probably mental health problems that I didn’t think about at the time. It was right in this area that my most demanding ‘firearms incident‘ happened when I was later a police duty inspector.
I started a notebook for community contacts: within little time I had the council ASB contact, the environment health contact (for noise and other problems) the ward support officer; the graffiti guys (who could clear up); various numbers for third-sector agencies who operated in my area covering issues like, alcohol, drugs, homelessness. I had community development officers numbers and I got to know these people well enough before I became the sector inspector for the area some 18 months later. What did I not have?!
Most neighbourhood sergeants in the police do not know the names of their community mental health team managers. I’ve asked the question a lot to test my theory. They would know who to ring if they had problems associated with the above-mentioned issues, but not if they were dealing with a neighbour dispute where one resident was getting annoyed at the sub-criminal, barely anti-social conduct of someone who had obvious mental health problems. They’d find out, but it would then be attempting to resolve some complex neighbourhood policing problems by dealing with an unfamiliar face. I advised a neighbourhood inspector today for exactly this kind of situation: he admitted he had no idea how to work out whether someone engagd in ASB and thought to be mentally ill was known to a GP or a CMHT. No contacts within NHS community based, primary care or secondary care MH services.
For reasons like this, I’ve suggested numerous times that neighbourhood team sergeants should invest in some non-chocolate hob nobs (the true mascot biscuit of the police service) and invite them for a coffee (we can do tea, if absolutely necessary). I can’t imagine they’d be short of things to discuss: CMHTs are constantly undertaking visits, assessments, dealing with patients who have risk histories. CMHTs and AMHPs tell me that arranging police to attend some of their MHA assessments is often very difficult. Imagine how easy it would be if you were on first name terms with the local neighbourhood sergeant and had his / her mobile number in your phone and their shift pattern on a spreadsheet so you’d know when they were on? Even if you needed the police when the Sarge wasn’t available with their team, they’d be able to get police to you when you needed them.
Equally, how much business could be done from a policing perspective? Principally, it was a vision of Lord BRADLEY’s in his 2009 report, that there should be early intervention and diversion as a result of greater integration of neighbourhood policing and community MH services. If these sergeants and MH team leaders were acquainted and supportive? One could imagine early ID of repeat callers to the police, cross referenced by MH to their patient list, leading to early, joined up approaches to emerging problems. One could imagine, advice and support across the agencies as the natural by-product of supervisory professionals who know and support each other. I could see sergeants attending the occasional MH team meeting to help them understand legal issues affecting the service; MH team leader coming on police briefings to raise awareness of MH issues and help officers understand how to identify those potentially at risk or in need.
This happens naturally between the police and the council / trading standards / immigration – why not so often between the police and mental health services? It doesn’t have to take more than a couple of hours and couple of phone calls over several months and an exchange of email addresses.