The Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant

  1. it could also have an impact on mental health users themselves. Its the same principle with school work i suppose. Also, I find i build better relationships with systems when I can engage on a personal level, when I am feeling calm. It is like putting a personal face to the faceless system. Just my thoughts.. might not be possible, nice if it could be

  2. Getting to put a human face to any name /title is far more empowering than we think. We are critical of systems who have cosy relationships with others in their areas ie. Coroners and Jental Health teams! Its a fine balance but having human interaction on all levels is preferable to anonymous contact. Having cosy relationships is just a personal failing of complacency. Professional job first…… friendships next!
    Engagement with empathy every time!

  3. There are two incorrect assumptions in your comments, it has to be tea and should be ginger biscuits! Personal preferences aside I have consistently encouraged appropriate justifiable information sharing, and once you can get past ingrained confidentiality related issues, the ability to pick up the phone and make contact with a professional colleague in another organisation can make a huge difference to teh potential outcomes for everyone involved.

    1. Probably by one or other of the agencies supplying the coffee, the hobnobs and the invitation to the other and then talking. First thing to ask in such discussions is “How can I help you deliver YOUR service better?” Then bring it around to how they can help you. Works both ways.

  4. Guv, thanks for the blog – it is very thought provoking.
    I work as a ward manager for a busy town in the ‘shires, which has a disproportionately high instance of drug use due to there being 3 of the areas’ drug treatment centres based in my town in addition to the area’s mental health team being based in the town.
    You have a valid point in regards to ignorance of the local MHT but I think this is an accusation that can be levelled at the mental health professionals as well. I also have dealt with many incidents involving mental health and in my experience I feel the goodwill of the police service and it’s officers is sometimes abused by the NHS and the MHT’s, with hospitals not accepting 136 patients, emergency duty teams not answering phones and other similar issues. I myself have dealt with one young man, standing on the wall of the fourth floor of a car park, self harming with a broken bottle, crying out for his social worker and key worker and only willing to let me get close because I discarded my PPE and body armour, I spent 90 minutes talking to this poor soul, having to place myself at risk, because the EDT would attend or give police the contact number for the social worker. Eventually I was able to persuade him to get down but was forced to restrain him when he tried to self harm again. Now all that was bad enough but I now have a suicidal male with documented mental health problems I have had to 136 due to having no other options available. Upon arrival at A&E, I am faced with being refused, and it is only due to my sheer bloodymindedness by threatening to just abandon him in the treatment room that he is accepted. It takes 4 hours for all those necessary to attend, by which time myself and the officers present have been bitten, scratched and assaulted whilst restraining the male and preventing him from leaving. The whole time we are there he is stating that he will kill himself upon release. MHT arrive and declare he will not be admitted due to their believing that the problem is behaviorul. We have no option to arrest this poor soul for assault PC in order to keep him safe in our cells – no one suffering from the issues this lad had should be kept in a cell – it is not the right place. The galling thing is that he was detained in a secure unit just a week later when he was found unconcious after taking an overdose.

    I am sure that PC’s all over the country can give a similar story, but the reason I avoid our MHT is because every time I go to a meeting I am faced with excuses and it is me that is faced with the fall out because the police cannot say no.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post this. I think it puts across the frustrations very well. I understand them completely as I could have written this too. I hope MH professionals read this and take it back when thinking about their services.

      I do think it’s important not to give up, because like you say: your sheer determination to do what you did, got the man into a healthcare environment and kept him there. Whatever you may think about the decision not to detain him, at least you did your part and then took necessary further action which was within your gift.

      If I’m learning anything through blogging and twitter, it’s just reinforcing what I learned as an MH lead for my force: that the more you keep chipping away and chipping away and highlighting what doesn’t work; the more success you secure in the long run. However massively frustrating, the police can be massively inconsistent too and I’m learning through SM that many NHS MH professionals think that certain MH responses to crisis are appalling. Some a great. Thanks again, I really enjoyed the comment.

      1. On this occasion the force were fortunate that it was an SNT officer that had been the first responder, in my force we have a more autonomous role than the Response teams. This allowed me to be able to spend the time at Hospital arguing his case. If it had been a response team, through sheer lack of resources, it’s possible they wouldn’t have been able to spend the time we did at the hospital guarding the male.

      2. Also, we, the police service, have to start saying no, and standing our ground. We have to stop making a not fit for purpose system work on the behalf of the NHS. I have nothing but respect for the hospital nurses and doctors I come into contact with and absolutely love every member of the ambulance service I have EVER dealt with but there is an ever increasing occurrence of incidents involving people with severe mental illness, and I believe that the MHT should take the lead more. I have arrived for a Sunday late turn to be called by control and asked to “call from EDT, can you please go and do a welfare check on ******* as they believe he is currently very vulnerable and has not been in contact” now, why us it that the log has ever been created? It should have been refused at the outset – if the team genuinely believe that ****** is at risk then they should attend and request police if required, or if they believe there is a risk then request police assistance when THEY visit. In this case I knew ****** from previous dealings in the town and had a good relationship. When I arrive at the address he was indeed in a bad way, evidence of self harm, medication strewn all over the flat, hysterically emotional etc. One quick call to EDT, no answer, my presence is now aggravating his condition hugely, so I wait outside the door, but make sure that door remains open. I finally get hold of EDT and are told that because he could potentially be violent, they won’t attend, that we are to section him under 136 – I refuse, goes all the way up to the Guvnor, who suggests the old trick of get him outside and then 136, again I refuse stating he was not found in the public place and it is for the EDT to attend and carry out an assessment. This continues and it takes an hour for a social worker to attend – very nonplussed about being out on a Sunday – assessment carried out – social worker requests we transport him in our police vehicle – I again refuse saying that at this point as he is calm, there is little risk and he should be transported in an ambulance, social worker states that she us un willing to wait or travel with the patient. I compromise and allow my colleague go in the back of the ambulance with him whilst I follow – even upon arrival at the secure unit, the social worker states that it is my “JOB” (her words) to wait with the male until she has finished her administration. At this point I literally handed the male to a member of the secure unit staff and left. I received a chastisement from my bosses for being inflexible – now the point is that I am a caring and sympathetic person who will do all I can to help people, even to the point of bending the rules to assist those who cannot help themselves, but not just because (in her words) “I was having my dinner”. It doesn’t help any of us when the service continues to do as we always have – make it work for others.

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