Police Custody Centres and Mental Health

Headlines are written to capture our attention and to motivate us to read the body of the article. So it was with some interest that I noticed a BBC website headline “Force tackles ‘mentally ill’ detained in police cells” .

Before reading the article I pondered on what the headline could have been leading me into.

A debate on how under-funded mental health is and how the police forces are forced to pick up the slack?

Comment on the inability of police officers to discern the difference between someone suffering from mental health issues and someone behaving in a criminal manner?

Praise of how (in this case Thames Valley) police were able to use facilities sympathetically and sensitively in the handling of people with mental health issues?

Well the piece is somewhere in between, and reports on the personal experience of an individual who found themselves in a police cell. In this instance, the individual in question had reported suicidal feelings.

The danger of the headline is that some people might read it and leave the article believing that we were living in a state where the police were going around and dragging people off the streets with genuine mental health issues.

The lady in the article agreed that the care she received in the police cell was as good as could be expected. Praise enough considering what a massively emotional experience it was. This does lead to the question: “Is it so wrong for a person who is threatening to harm themselves to be in the care of a police force?
We have to accept that we are a geographically small country with every-increasing financial pressures on our welfare state. Therefore overlapping services (when done correctly) is an excellent strategy. Most towns have a police station,; not many towns have a facility for a person who needs immediate mental care facilities.

Photo courtesy grietgriet (Morguefile)

Photo courtesy grietgriet (Morguefile)

Over the past decade, police custody suites have been moved from the centre of towns to purpose-built facilities on the outskirts. This has a number of benefits not least the opportunity to move away from Victorian real estate. With a bit more foresight and planning, any new facility could be equipped with enhanced patient- monitoring systems that are similar to the standard CCTV systems fitted in nearly all custody cells. Police forces are rightly proud of the way they handle prisoners and thankfully we do not live in a society where prisoners are routinely abused just for being in a cell. By improving training further or by having on-site mental health professionals, a single facility could manage both requirements professionally and compassionately.
As a society take pride in respecting the rights and needs of the individual. Whether that person is cared for in a police-run facility or a medical health institute, so long as the premises is fit for purpose and the staff trained professionally and sympathetically does it really matter if the sign above the door says “Police” or “Hospital Trust”?

Maybe in time the headline of the BBC article would invoke a more congratulatory emotion rather than one of dread.?

The full BBC article can be read here…