I remember well my first visit to Ipswich Police Station – the same that now lies in rubble by Civic Drive – not long after the election in 2010. I sat in an operations room, in the early hours, whilst a couple of drunken idiots raged in the cells of the custody suite next door. On the wall was a collage of the Ipswich bill’s most regular customers – repeat offenders, most of them very young – one of whom was so prolific that an officer wryly commented that they needed to book his magistrate’s appearance as soon as they were warned of his day of release from his latest stay at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Discussing the challenges with the policemen and women, one theme came through time and again – the amount of work the police were having to do helping people who should otherwise be looked after by mental health services. Frontline police constables responding to 999 calls when a mentally ill person was putting themselves or others in danger had little option but to detain them, even though far more appropriate help could have been to hand. Consequently, people with serious mental health problems were being locked in police cells, to their intense distress.
You will be as pleased to know as I was that the police have worked hard to sort this serious problem out. It has been calculated that nearly 40% of emergency calls made in Suffolk have some mental health component. Yet this year only six people were held in a cell under the Mental Health Act, down from 69 in 2010.
How have they done this? I found out on a visit to Landmark House, the new police centre for Ipswich, a couple of weeks ago. The lead policeman for mental health, Inspector Chris Galley, explained the excellent work he and his colleagues have done. The main reason has been the introduction of a ‘triage car’, staffed not only by a police officer but also by a mental health nurse, which patrols the streets of Ipswich during peak hours. Now, when a 999 call is made in relation to a person with mental health problems, a trained professional is able to assess them and make sure that they get the most appropriate care. This it not only the best thing to do for the person concerned; it also ensures that the police are freed up to deal with other calls more quickly. The next step will be to get a mental health nurse in the control room, enabling the process to start from the moment a call is made – and this is precisely what the constabulary are working on doing.
All of this has been achieved whilst the police have had to reduce their budgets. My discussion at Landmark House reinforced my belief that asking how someone spends money is always a better than asking how much money they spend. In this instance, the police have improved their service to some of the most vulnerable people in our community whilst reducing demand on their custody work. A good thing all round.
I know that people will want to know about why I voted in favour of military action in Syria: I shall write about this next week.
‘Carols on the Green’
Finally, I want to give a plug for the excellent ‘Carols on the Green’ event that I went to last year and will be repeated on Saturday 12 December. It is between 3 and 4pm on Broke Hall green opposite Broke Hall shops in Penshurst Road. A great way to enter the Christmas spirit!
If you have any comments or concerns, please get in touch with my team.
Email: Ben can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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