This is a continuation of previous post >>> Part 1.
THE RATIONALISATION OF THE USE OF FORCE
It was commented that much time and effort was spent by both the NHS professionals AND by the police, attempting to resolve this situation without resort to force. Officers are not allowed to ‘escalate’ to higher levels of force like CS, batons and Tasers unless they have tried and failed with lower level interventions OR unless the nature of the resistance faced is quite obviously not going to be safely managed with those lower level tactics. So, if you find yourself suddenly facing a man with a knife, you will start giving verbal directions – “Put the knife down. Get back, stay back!” etc. – but you will NEVER think about using close, manual handling techniques or strikes because it would put you in very close personal danger. You would be quite entitled to reach straight for your equipment and to use it if the verbal instructions were disregarded.
If the confrontation began at a much lower level, like verbal resistance and passive physical resistance to being manually restrained, it would not be defendable to reach for a Taser or anything else except maybe handcuffs. But if in the course of attempting to take someone’s arms and guide their wrists into a set of handcuffs, if they lashed out and punched you or threw you across a room; you would be entitled to disengage from manual handling restraints and think about using CS, baton or Taser. That said, if you are in someone’s house or amidst a crowd, using CS may be a quite inappropriate decision – you could just as well take out yourself, your colleagues or third parties if you use it and become indirectly exposed to its effects. So you’d think about using your baton or Taser if you are equipped with it – not all UK officers carry a Taser. If the initially verbal or passive resistance becomes active, aggravated and seriously aggravated resistance, then escalation from manual handling techniques to the use of personal protective equipment can be justified.
Whether everyone would choose to do so in circumstances where it were legally justified, is another judgement entirely.
THE ALZHEIMER’S SOCIETY
If you listen to the Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2, you’ll hear from Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive of The Alzheimer’s Society who was more interested in pointing out “It is a real failure of support and a failure of care, which I’d take back a step before the police’s role. The police are doing what they are trained to do … why did it get to a stage where the Doctor hadn’t been aware of a need for support earlier? It is very unlikely that you’d get such a rapid progression in the space of a morning where suddenly someone was in need of support where previously they didn’t.” In fact during this interview, despite the clear concern for the fact that the incident occurred at all, the main criticism appeared (to me) surround whether medical intervention could or should have occured earlier.
Mr Hughes went of to suggest the officers could have “Withdrawn a little bit to calm him in the situation, rather than move him to somewhere else. Let his wife sit with him, let the family support him rather than rushing him when he’s feeling volatile, he’s already feeling disoriented and sensitive. The more you pile things on, the more different people coming into the room … a police officer in uniform could be one very upsetting, destabilising event in itself.” Of course, what Mr Hughes or Mrs Russell may have thought about any assault that could have been prevented by restraint but which was not prevented because of a decision taken to ‘de-escalate’ by withdrawal is not known. “I wouldn’t want to be condemning the officer involved because the officer is doing what he’s been trained to do and what they’ve been asked to do. But as we’ve heard the officers have been trained to use force to achieve a result, what they haven’t had is specific training on dementia.”
I want to make a quick remark about dementia specific training and will return to this more fully in a future blog. Having worked within this part of policing for many years, there are always calls by specific groups for great ‘awareness’ training of, for example, dementia. But also of Learning Disabilities; of Autism; of Schizophrenia, of Personality Disorder; of Brain Injury. Place that on top of ‘generic’ awareness training on ‘mental health’ and all of a sudden, you haven’t taught the police any LAW and you’ve been in a classroom for a week. It is my view having sat through a lot of seminars, conferences and specific training events of the kind described, that condition-specific training is needed only to the extent that it is necessary to dictate and explain a need for a different kind of response – whether Mr Russell was suffering from dementia or any other kind of condition, what difference to the response was needed to that which he would have required if he had suffered from bipolar disorder? I would argue none – many training inputs that I have attended, run by national charitable organisations for different specific conditions say rather similar things: “patient communication, de-escalate, be careful about language and communication, avoid the use of force.”
To have police officers in a position of being more knowledgable about conditions cannot be a bad thing in itself, not least in terms of an improved ability to recognise those who suffer from various types of mental health problems. However, I would argue that detention under s136 MHA of a schizophrenia patients is little different in effect or application to that for dementia patients or those with personality disorder. Communication skills and de-escalation techniques are little different for brain injury patients than for those born with a learning disability.
In this regard and having sat through numerous training events, general and specific, I have long believed that the specialist training needed by police officers is on autism. I need to blog more about autism, so will leave my explanation for this to those posts in the future. Otherwise, in my personal view, other conditions bear specific explanation in the context of good, general mental health awareness training.
This case is extremely difficult and quite rare. It is for that reason it has reached national media, but regardless: it remains the case that the use of force is a balancing act of considerations – risks of intervening versus risks of non-intervention. No-one thinks that use of Tasers is an inherently good thing, let alone on a middle aged dementia patient. But in the descriptions offered of this incident, one can just ‘hear’ the progression through the Conflict Management Model.
OTHER MEDIA LINKS
- BBC NEWS
- BBC Look North – includes interviews with Mrs Russell, Supt KELK and Sarah Moody (Alzheimer’s Society).
- Daily Telegraph
- Daily Mail
- Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 <<< This link will expire soon as this is on iPlayer.
- Wherefore Care
- Report of the Chief Constable – of Humberside Police to the Humberside Police Authority
The Mental Health Cop blog
– won the ConnectedCOPS ‘Top Cop’ Award for leveraging social media in policing.
– won the Digital Media Award from the UK’s leading mental health charity, Mind
– won a World of Mentalists #TWIMAward for the best in mental health blogs
– was highlighted by the Independent Commission on Policing & Mental Health
– was referenced in the UK Parliamentary debate on Policing & Mental Health
– was commended by the Home Affairs Select Committee of the UK Parliament.