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Lobby for an end to use of custody as a 'place of safety'

The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has long been a champion of mental health related issues within the police and community safety environment, including a spell as the national PCC lead for mental health.

One long-standing concern has been the use of police custody as a ‘place of safety’ for individuals experiencing mental ill health crisis – often referred to as S136, the section of Mental Health Act that applies.

While the police are often the first to respond to individuals facing such crisis, it is essential that those vulnerable through mental ill health receive the appropriate care in the correct environment rather than being detained in a police cell. The PCC therefore pledged to lobby for an end to the use of police custody as a place of safety.

The Street Triage service launched by the PCC in 2014 continues to work effectively, providing police officers with access to support and advice from mental health practitioners, and resulting in significant reductions in the use of S136 locally.

Work with partners has also enhanced the levels of training delivered to police officers in responding to incidents where mental ill health is a factor. This work has seen significant reductions in the use of police custody suites for S136 incidents – used on just 10 occasions in 2015/16, reducing to four occasions in 2018/19.

In 2017, the PCC responded to the NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) public consultation on new proposals laid out in the Mental Health Acute Care Pathway review, supporting plans for additional inpatient beds and the creation of new retreats and ‘community front room’ services.

Ensuring adequate provision and appropriate care is vital to meeting the needs of the individual at risk and reducing the amount of police officer time spent managing cases rather than trained mental health professionals. These proposals have since been implemented.

Ongoing lobbying for legislation change, of which the PCC has been a vocal advocate, saw the announcement made in 2018 that it would no longer be lawful for a police station to be used as a place of safety for a person under 18 years of age experiencing mental ill health.

As a supporter of the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act carried out in 2018, the PCC awaits the full Government response to the recommendations put forward relating to care for detained individuals in the proposed Mental Health Bill.

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