Police face rising tide of mental health incidents

THE number of mental health-related incidents that Guernsey Police have responded to has more than tripled in the last three years.

Police Station, Hospital Lane, St Peter Port.  (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29109554)
Police Station, Hospital Lane, St Peter Port. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 29109554)

An Access to Public Information request has revealed that law enforcement officers reported 225 incidents they considered as involving someone as vulnerable last year, compared to 62 in 2017.

Although figures for those that were detained under section 92 of the mental health law have increased by more than half in 2020 from 22 to 36, this has been on a steady decline since 2018 when it hit 46.

Section 92 of the mental health law enables officers to, in the interests of the individual, move that person to a place of safety for up to 72 hours to be examined by a medical practitioner and to be interviewed by an approved social worker for potential treatment.

Despite a change during 2019 in how outcomes, or results, of cases or incidents that involve mental health issues are recorded following changes to the national standards, Guernsey Police were wary of the rise of cases.

‘We are required to follow the National Crime Recording Standards, which not only provide direction on the recording of crimes but also on other matters that the police attend or deal with,’ a Guernsey Police spokesperson said.

‘The way we record the changes broadened out the recording of such incidents to better reflect the number of cases police deal with that have a mental health element to them.

‘However, it is clear from the data that even without this recording change the number of mental health-related incidents police respond to is increasing.’

In 2019, it was reported that the 2018 annual report for Bailiwick Law Enforcement showed that 20% of frontline police time was spent dealing with matters directly related to mental health and safeguarding.

It led to head of law enforcement, Ruari Hardy, to advise that they would work towards more community-based interaction to alleviate the rise.

The Guernsey Police spokesperson added that officers often found themselves in a situation where they were dealing with an individual that they consider to be suffering from mental health issues or in need of further support.

‘While it is not the primary role of a police officer, as people experiencing mental health issues should be seen by appropriately skilled and trained healthcare staff, as a 24/7 response service people often turn to the police to support in times of crisis,’ the spokesperson said.

‘As has been seen across many local services, and in fact nationally, calls to mental health incidents have substantially increased in recent times.’

They added that while police officers were trained and skilled in a vast range of policing skills and always sought to take proportionate steps to support the community, they were not mental health experts.

Their role, therefore, would be to continue to work closely with senior Health & Social Care managers to see how the services can be even more joined up for people experiencing mental illness.

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