New Supers’ President calls for urgent review of legislation, claiming “too many” officers are being called upon to deal with mental health issues.
The new president of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales has called for an urgent review of legislation relating to police powers and mental health.
Ch Supt Irene Curtis (pictured), who took up the role on March 18, said expectations placed on officers dealing with mental health issues had reached an “unacceptable level”, adding: “Police are always seen as the last resort, as the ones that will pick up the pieces.”
She said more clarification is needed to enable officers to deal with people who have mental health problems.
Currently, under the Mental Health Act, officers cannot detain people who are not in a public place and, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, officers can force entry to protect life but cannot detain a person in order to do so.
“The legislation surrounding the use of police powers to deal with mental health is in urgent need of review and clarification,” said Ch Supt Curtis.
The Police Service needed to identify and address the increasing demands created by gaps and reductions in other agencies’ provision, she said.
“Currently, the police play too great a role in what is, after all, a medical emergency,” Ch Supt Curtis added. “Far too many people detained by police under the Mental Health Act end up in police cells simply because there is nowhere else to take them.
“It is not a crime to be unwell and the chronic lack of provision for mental health assessment places (“places of safety”) needs to be addressed immediately, as well as the lack of training for officers to deal effectively and safely with incidents involving people suffering from mental illness.”
Home Secretary Theresa May is said to have written to chief constables and police and crime commissioners earlier this month urging them to work more closely with new local NHS commissioners around mental health matters.
“We all want to see less routine use being made of police stations as a place of safety,” said Mrs May, adding: “Detention should not be a substitute for treatment and care.”
Ch Supt Curtis has been a police officer with Lancashire Constabulary since 1985 and vice president of the Superintendents’ Association since 2010. She took over from retiring colleague, Derek Barnett.
Mental Health Expectations On Police ‘Unacceptable’