Policing is not the problem here: the extent to which we rely upon policing – that’s the problem. This doesn’t not mean the police have no role to play, that the police are perfect and that we should never rely on them to act as society’s safety net. Sometimes it is inevitable the police will be the first point of contact for someone in mental health crisis and we are right to expect officers and their organisations to be competent in ensuring immediate safety and appropriate referral to relevant forms of assessment and support. Nor does my argument mean that what the police know about mental health issues in our society is irrelevant and uninformed: the police see things that are outside the norm and we know like no others what it’s like to be that safety net. This gives us an insight in to how mental health issues operate in society that is different. If you doubt this, look at the number of people who
Here are my thoughts, in summary: the detail is elsewhere on this BLOG across countless posts –
To entirely misquote Carl von Clausewitz’s aphorism, “Policing is a continuation of healthcare, by other means.” Just like war can represent a failure of politics; policing mental illness can represent a failure of social justice when it comes to ensuring timely access to relevant care and support. If all we are going to do is focus on what is wrong with policing and improve that, we might as well pack up and admit we don’t care – policing is not the problem here: the extent to which we over-rely upon policing is the problem here. We must rely upon it less as a de facto mental health service, without pretending that there is no role for officers to play – and if we don’t, it will cost us more and lead to poorer outcomes.
Earlier this week, I had to listen to a phone call made to a mental health crisis team and whilst the content of that call is not my story to share, it’s fair to say the reaction to a request for some mental health support was “ring 999!” when absolutely NOTHING within the incident suggested this was even vaguely necessary … so let me put this another way: there is plenty that is wrong with policing we could spend our time fixing – and we probably will because it needs fixing regardless of what else we don’t do. But when we’ve finished doing all of that, it will have some marginal effect, but won’t be able to affect all the outcomes we don’t like where we’ve over-relied upon the police as a de facto mental health service.
Policing is not the problem here – the extent to which we rely upon policing: THAT’s the problem here; and I worry that we will continue to make deliberate choices, as we have for decades, to make this problem worse, not better. Then we’ll wonder why all the guidelines and all the training for policing made no difference, whilst failing to realising we didn’t do anything about the fundamental problem.
Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.