The high level summit on Policing and Mental Health jointly hosted by the Home Office and Black Mental Health UK held in Westminster last week has put the concerns over the disproportionate numbers of people from the UK's African Caribbean communities who are routinely come in contact with the police while in need of mental health care, both on while in hospital and when in the community back on the political agenda.
Keynote speaker Home Secretary Theresa May MP said that those in need should not be "greeted by police officers, cells and handcuffs", but by medical experts, a bed and proper healthcare.
The Home Secretary also announced a package of measures to improve the police response to people with mental health problems at the event in Central Hall, London.
Data collection on Taser & Restraint
• The Home Office will work with the police to pilot collection of data not just on the volumes of people detained under the Mental Health Act, but their age, ethnicity and the circumstances in which they were detained.
• An in-depth review by the Home Office and national policing lead of the publication of Taser data and other use of force by police officers. This will present options for publishing data on how officers are deploying these sensitive powers, who they are being used on and what the outcome was.
• A three-month pilot with Sussex Police, health partners and a local care home to trial an alternative place of safety to police custody. This will provide additional capacity, meaning a better experience for people who are detained pending a mental health assessment, and making the best use of police time and resources.
• A guide for the police and their partners to ensure their interactions with vulnerable people are consistent and appropriate at every stage.
Impetus for reform
The summit also heard how an ongoing review of section 135 and 136 by the Home Office and Department of Health will be published in coming months and provide impetus for the next stage of reform.
Police not best placed to deal with mental health crisis'
Minister for Care Support Norman Lamb MP also spoke at this event, about the discrimination faced by people in the Diaspora who come in contact with mental health services. He also concurred with the Home Secretary Theresa May MP who said in her keynote address: 'The police are not best placed to be dealing with vulnerable people suffering a mental health crisis. This is not just wasting police time, but it is often totally the wrong response for people who need care and support.'
May added: 'So let me be clear – when we say police cells should only be used as a last resort, we must never accept a situation when their use is anything other than just that.
Police vans and cars should only be used to transport vulnerable people – who have committed no crime - where there really is no alternative, and no excuse for there being no alternative.
We must recognise that alcohol or drug abuse may be a sign of vulnerability or mask a mental health problem or learning disability. It should never be a barrier to treatment.
And we should never accept a situation in which scared, confused children with mental health problems are routinely locked up in a police cell.
Research shows people from black African and Caribbean communities are more likely to be referred to mental health services via the police and criminal justice system, with admission rates two to four times the national average.'
Need for commitment to be turned into practical reality
She added: 'African Caribbean people are also more likely to be treated under a section of the Mental Health Act, receive medication and be in high and medium-secure units and prisons.
Evidence from the London Assembly suggests that not only are up to 30% of people Tasered by the Metropolitan Police emotionally or mentally distressed, but that 50% of those Tasered are from black or ethnic minority backgrounds.'
Director of Black Mental Health UK Matilda MacAttram said: It is encouraging that the Home Secretary has recognised the disproportionate number of black people being detained by police under the Mental Health Act and shares my commitment to addressing this age old issue.
This commitment urgently needs to be turned into a practical reality so people's experience of the emergency services is one of care and not coercion.'
Investment in black led community based services needed
'Investment needs to be made so that pilot schemes of health based places of safety that are being rolled out in Sussex will also be set up by the community based specialist African Caribbean services that have a track record of serving people who are from the UK's African Caribbean communities who we know are more likely to end up in police custody,' MacAttram said.
Then added: 'BMH UK wants' to see the involvement of both Health Minister Norman Lamb MP and Policing Minister Mike Penning who were speakers at the summit continue to support BMH UK's work so that we get to the stage very quickly where there is little or no police involvement in mental health care and that that every vulnerable person from the community who needs mental health care is treated with compassion not coercion.'
BMH UK also launched the first print edition of their magazine entitled The Solution at this event, (Mike Penning holding copy in picture above). This seventh edition of BMH UK's publication focused on the theme of policing and mental health and featured Dr Joanna Bennett, key progenitor of the David 'Rocky' Bennett inquiry report on the front cover.
Speakers and workshop leads at the joint Home Office and Black Mental Health summit on Policing and Mental Health Summit included:
1. Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, keynote speaker
2. Matilda MacAttram, Black Mental Health UK, co-host
3. Dr Joanna Bennett, University of the West Indies, chair for the summit
4. Rt Hon Mike Penning MP, Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims
5. Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Minister for Care and Support
6. Rt Hon Charles Walker MP, mental health advocate
7. Lord Harris of Harringey, Chair, Independent Advisory Panel on Death In Custody
8. Chief Constable Alfred Hitchcock, National Policing Lead for Equality & Diversity
9. Reverend Paul Grey, providing a community perspective on policing and mental health
10. Alicia Spence, Services Director ACCI (African Caribbean Community Initiative)
11. Bishop Llewellyn Grayham,Chief Executive, Nehemiah Housing Association
12. Estella Weston, Director Family Health Isis
13. Dennis Smith, community support worker, Family Health Isis
14. Dr Matthew Patrick, Chief Executive, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
15. Ann Norman, Professional Nurse Adviser for Learning Disablity and Criminal Justice Nursing, Royal College of Nursing
16. Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset
17. Chief Superintendent, Chris Bourlet Met Police, NHS England Health in Justice Team
18. Chief Inspector Sean Russell, West Midlands Police
19. Inspector, Michael Brown, Mental Health Co-ordinator, College of Policing
20. Seargeant Chris Morrow, Met Police, Officer Safety Policy
21. Ian Read, Met Police, Police Staff Safety Instructor
By Matilda MacAttram
Copyright © 2014 Matilda MacAttram All rights reserved.
For information on obtaining permission to resue this work email
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission, where published the authors byline, biography and copyright notice are retained in their entireity.