Protect the Protectors

A blog from PCC Martyn Underhill and ACC Julie Fielding at the end of Mental Health Awareness Week

It’s coming toward the end of Mental Health Awareness week and my mind turns to the officers and staff of Dorset Police who are facing their own mental health issues.

The pressure on policing is well documented.  Police officers and staff often face challenging situations in carrying out their duties to protect the public. We ask a lot of our officers and I thank them for their ongoing commitment and dedication.

In 2014, The Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner (OPCC) funded the ‘Street Triage’ pilot scheme. The scheme saw the introduction of mental health practitioners assisting police officers on patrol. As part of the street triage service, mental health practitioners from Dorset Healthcare conduct a telephone triage service to support police officers out on patrol, assisting officers when they are responding to emergency calls and giving advice to staff in police control rooms.

Officers are also able to request the assistance of the practitioners at the scene of incidents. The time taken to deal with one mental health related incident is on average 5 hours, which equates to 22,000 hours a year!

Since its introduction, the scheme has seen a significant reduction in the number of times a custody suite has been used as a place of safety for those suffering from a mental health crisis. In fact the number of mental health detainees from April 2017 to January 2018 was just two.

This scheme means officers get the help they need when dealing with mental health issues in the community, which in turn reduces the direct stress they face when dealing with these complex and difficult situations.

In 2017, the OPCC contributed expert feedback to the Mental Health Acute Care Pathway review. The result of the review meant two new retreats will be set up in Dorset, one is already established in Bournemouth and a second will be opening in Dorchester in the near future. Both facilities will provide support when it’s needed, to those in mental health crisis.

However, for all the good work that is being done in the community, there comes a time when empathy and thanks are not enough to tackle the personal challenges that officers and staff face. We must ensure that mental health and wellbeing is central in all we do. We must ‘Protect the Protectors’!

Since becoming PCC, I have appointed a Mental Health Coordinator for Dorset Police to work on ways to reduce the impact on officers and look at alternative mechanisms to ensure that front line officers and staff are supported. I have also worked closely with the Force to develop a Wellbeing Strategy and improve the early diagnosis of PTSD through a peer support system for those who have been exposed to psychological trauma and I am pleased that we now more have more support systems in place that ever before.

But there is still more to do and that is why I have given £250,000 to the new Chief Constable to bring together best practice and activity that is already underway from across both forces; and to deliver a clear, consistent strategy and action plan in order to find the gaps in service and provide effective solutions.

I will be monitoring this work closely and I look forward to coming back to you with updates on how we can continue to help you continue to do the invaluable job you do day in day out for the people of Dorset.

Assistant Chief Constable Julie Fielding said: “Mental health awareness is critical – not only in our communities, but for the wellness of our own staff.

“Wellness is a priority for myself and the Chief Constable and investment in this area from the PCC to give mental health support to all officers and staff when it is most need is very welcome.

“There is substantial work to be done in this area and there is no doubt it cuts across so many strands of day to policing in our communities. But I feel we are up to the challenge and will continue to invest in wellness and ensure our staff are as equipped as possible to do their job.”

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