Tuesday, May 30, 2023

John MacDonald: Change is desperately needed around police mental health call-outs

Late last year, I had a catch-up with the Canterbury Metro Police Commander, Superintendent Lane Todd.

It was just after there’d been a lot of chat about crime in the central city and whether we should be getting a police helicopter in Christchurch - all of that stuff.

So I turned up at Police HQ in the centre of town and spent about an hour with Lane.

It was a really useful meeting - especially when it came to getting an understanding of how much police are involved in mental health call-outs here in Canterbury.

I can’t remember the stats off the top-of-my-head, but Lane pulled out a sheet of all the jobs his staff had been called out to in the 24 hours before we met. And, I’ll be honest with you, I was staggered at the amount of time they’d spent on mental health call-outs.

I knew that a lot of what the Police in Canterbury and right around New Zealand do is associated with people dealing with some pretty major mental health issues. But the number of call-outs was incredible.

Lane wasn’t doing this to make any particular point about police involvement in mental health issues. He was doing it to show me the scale of stuff that the Police have to deal with - day-in, day-out.

And so much of it is to do with mental health.

Which is something Police all around the world are struggling with. And it’s why the Metropolitan Police in London has announced that, from the end of August, it won’t be doing mental health call-outs anymore - unless, there is an immediate threat to life. And the bar’s going to be pretty high for them to turn up.

The Police in London get thousands of calls every year and so they’re calling time on it. For a couple of reasons. They say that the number of mental health call-outs has become so high, that it’s stopping them from doing their core job - which is fighting crime. And they say the last people a person in mental distress needs turning up are cops. They say these people need medical experts, not police officers.

Chris Cahill from the New Zealand Police Association said on Newstalk ZB today that New Zealand needs to think seriously about doing what the Police in London are doing, and pass the job of handling mental call-outs on to another outfit.

The question is: who might that be? If we pick up on what the Police in London are saying about cops being the last people someone in mental distress needs turning up, then the obvious answer would be mental health services taking over responsibility for these call-outs.

But chances are they wouldn’t want to do that without, at least, some form of Police support.

I’m really torn on this. Because, if I look at it purely from the perspective of freeing-up police time so they can focus on catching crims and even preventing crime - then taking mental health call-outs off their plate is a no-brainer. Especially when you consider how much of their time is taken up by them right now.

But if I put myself in the position of someone who is dealing with a person who is in really bad shape mentally, and maybe acting really aggressively, then there’s no doubt I’d want to get on the phone, Dial 111 and get the police around.

Thankfully, I haven’t been in that situation. But I was talking earlier today with someone who has, and they were telling me that they called St John’s when something was going and the ambo crew turned up but they wouldn’t go in to help until the Police arrived as well.

So, whether we like it or not, there is a high dependency on Police intervention and support when it comes to serious mental health incidents.

But, even though I’m a bit torn on this one, I actually agree that the people actually qualified to deal with mental health issues do need to step-up.

The thing is, though, these people are overstretched too. But when the state of mental health seems to be so bad in our community and, because of that, the Police are really struggling to do the job we expect them to do - then change is desperately needed.

John MacDonald is the Canterbury Mornings host on Newstalk ZB Christchurch. This article was first published HERE


Anonymous said...

To quote from this article - "But if I put myself in the position of someone who is dealing with a person who is in really bad shape mentally, and maybe acting really aggressively, then there’s no doubt I’d want to get on the phone, Dial 111 and get the police around".

Your quote is correct, that is how many Police interactions occur, in the first instance, but ... !

Please correct me if I am incorrect; my assumption is that the Police work under current Mental Health Laws, in respect to "detaining a person[s], with a mental health risk (known or in the first instance), for the safety of both (person) & family/friends etc, thus have the "legal right to both detain that person and either transport to and/or have transported to either - [1] a Hospital ED for evaluation or [2] - a Mental health facility (for same reason).

I am aware that Ambulance staff who "arrive at a scene" where such a patient
is located, they would seek Police intervention (for that Legal perspective)
and also "there own personal safety".

I would not put "to much faith in news reports re London Police" (on this same topic), such an action requires the Home Secretary to "both agree to & sign off on", prior to cessation of interventions - and knowing that current English NHS services are "at breaking point", it would be interesting to "know, which agency would put their hand up to take on such tasking", knowing the risks of such work/and risks pertaining to same = Safety of those at the coal face - oh Yes, we may have to call the Police!

To the Author of this comment, go talk to your local Ambulance Personnel on this topic - you may find your enquiring conversation more than interesting.

I am ANON, resident of New Zealand.

Anonymous said...

Understatement: Change is needed. Do we need more police then? Do we need more mental health institutions as in crisis response teams with a home base and as in somewhere for people with those issues to settle and get themselves sorted out?
Who is the genius problem solver who can sort this out?