Every now and then, from time to time, I really do wonder whether I’m actually just wasting my time here? Since I’ve spent sixteen months at the College of Policing, I’m almost exactly half-way through my current secondment and I will admit that I’ve actually started to miss operational policing and even shift work and feel guilty about getting another Christmas off. This is probably not helped by the period since I returned from Namibia having been quite a low point for me, in terms of my enthusiasm and appetite for this work. I’m not going to get in to the specifics of that here because there’s nothing new about the recent examples that have really annoyed me and it’s nothing I haven’t experienced or felt previously – but I post this BLOG as I stop for a Christmas break and hope by 04th January to get over myself and come back refreshed to keep saying and doing the same things over and Over and OVER, again and Again and AGAIN.
This is not the first time I’ve been asked to support production of policy and procedure, training and guidelines on mental health for the police – I did it in West Midlands Police in 2005-6 and then again 2009-11 whilst also working for the former ACPO and the former NPIA. This time, it’s just on a far larger scale and with greater scrutiny and expectation but police forces who raise issues with me at the College are are asking exactly the same questions and raising exactly similar problems as officers in West Midlands Police ten or more years ago.
Issues around legal powers, partnerships and demand management. The questions don’t change; so the answers won’t change. That’s because the problems haven’t changed, fundamentally; because we’re not addressing them in a meaningful way. We’re not even talking about them, in the main – we’re talking about symptoms of the problems like inpatient bed pressures; like s136 detainees going to police custody; and like diversion from justice. But there’s an astonishing lack of detail and a phenomenal amount of assumption that sits behind the activity we see currently – and we should be we really wary of activity, because it is all too often a proxy for achievement.
So here’s the rub: if you think that new College of Policing guidelines and training packages in 2016 are going to change the world, you’re deluding yourself. They should help – I’d argue the training packages will be especially important if forces take the time to put effort in to delivering them – but they alone are not going to make a big dent in the problems we face. Not without additional work by forces and their partner organisations to decide what they are actually trying to achieve – without that work by individual police officers to understand the issues within policing and mental health as they are required to think about and understand domestic abuse, stop and search or public order policing, we are probably wasting our time (and money) here.
Don’t be distracted by the activity we see around us: it often confuses and confounds our understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and I see this represented most obviously in so-called street triage initiatives. I’m not going to bore you again with the reasons why I remain utterly unconvinced of their overall utility – I’d go further and say that in some areas, they are making the problems we thought we were tackling worse, not better. Suffice to say here, that I’ve spent a lot of time in 2015 watching them, talking to those involved, reading the various evaluation reports, medica coverage, policy documents etc., etc.. and there will be things to say about all of this is in 2016. But I now have far greater grounds to doubt the various claims we see made – back of the envelope and cigarette packet analysis is never going to be that convincing, in the end. But if we are going to do it like that, at least ask all most of the relevant question, not just the ones that support a pre-determined position.
So we’ve got stuff to do in 2016 and whether it will end up making the slightest bit of difference or whether it might make things worse will probably depend on the work that we’re not doing and which we need our senior leaders to be a part of – what are we actually trying to achieve and far more importantly, why? The mental health system around the world has been actively seeking to criminalise people for over fifty years by pushing them in to ever-greater contact with the criminal justice system both as an end in itself and as a gateway or staging-post on the way to appropriate services. This is probably because the mental health system itself is unsure of exactly what it is there to do and what it is trying to achieve – either way, it remains under-resourced to achieve it but somewhere, we need a discussion about how much criminalisation is the right amount. Who is determining this and why is that right for the UK in the years ahead? As 2015 was the silver anniversary of Home Office circular 66/1990, which was the last time we saw a significant Government policy statement on mental health and criminal justice, it’s probably time we had a specific political and strategic discussion for this generation about what we’re hoping to do and it needs to be more specific than it was in the Crisis Care Concordat. A lot has changed since 1990 – not least of all, our mental health system and that’s not without collateral consequences.
I and others can keep demonstrating and explaining it to you; what we can’t do is understand it for you – that’s the bit you’ll have to do on your own.
A very festive Friday to you all.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.