Home > Police Stories > Mental Health Cop

Policing is Not The Problem Here
written by Mental Health Cop on the 23rd April 2018 at 21:52

Policing is not the problem here: the extent to which we rely upon policing – that’s the problem. This doesn’t not mean the police have no role to play, that the police are perfect and that we should never rely on them to act as society’s safety net. Sometimes it is inevitable the police will be the first point of contact for someone in mental health crisis and we are right to expect officers and their organisations to be competent in ensuring immediate safety and appropriate referral to relevant forms of assessment and support. Nor does my argument mean that what the police know about mental health issues in our society is irrelevant and uninformed: the police see things that are outside the norm and we know like no others what it’s like to be that safety net. This gives us an insight in to how mental health issues operate in society that is different. If you doubt this, look at the number of people who

Here are my thoughts, in summary: the detail is elsewhere on this BLOG across countless posts –

  • Almost all of the major untoward events in policing and mental health, reveal failures or omissions in health, as well as in policing.
  • This might be about the days and weeks preceding police contact or the ability of the healthcare system to get involved in real-time support to police officers when they must act as that safety net – how soon can we involve other agencies and have them take responsibility for the slower-time decisions which follow the intervention of the police.
  • Major reports on policing mental health make far more recommendations about the interface of health and policing than they do about policing itself (see Adebowale and Angiolini as just two recent examples).
  • I’m yet to learn the detail of a death in police custody where I did not end up being just as concerned with healthcare provision or policy, if not more so, than I was with policing.
  • So any focus which is just on policing and a need to improve it, is missing the point – almost entirely missing the point!
  • You can have as much early intervention as you’re prepared to pay for – and if you don’t pay for it, you’ll just end up paying more anyway, ensuring ever-later intervention with blunt tools which are far more likely to go awry.
  • We can make a choice to do things properly, or not – it would probably end up being cheaper, if we did.
  • And we all too often choose ‘not’ – mainly because the lessons of things gone awry are learned in policing, if they’re learned at all; not in ‘health’.

To entirely misquote Carl von Clausewitz’s aphorism, “Policing is a continuation of healthcare, by other means.” Just like war can represent a failure of politics; policing mental illness can represent a failure of social justice when it comes to ensuring timely access to relevant care and support. If all we are going to do is focus on what is wrong with policing and improve that, we might as well pack up and admit we don’t care – policing is not the problem here: the extent to which we over-rely upon policing is the problem here. We must rely upon it less as a de facto mental health service, without pretending that there is no role for officers to play – and if we don’t, it will cost us more and lead to poorer outcomes.

Earlier this week, I had to listen to a phone call made to a mental health crisis team and whilst the content of that call is not my story to share, it’s fair to say the reaction to a request for some mental health support was “ring 999!” when absolutely NOTHING within the incident suggested this was even vaguely necessary … so let me put this another way: there is plenty that is wrong with policing we could spend our time fixing – and we probably will because it needs fixing regardless of what else we don’t do. But when we’ve finished doing all of that, it will have some marginal effect, but won’t be able to affect all the outcomes we don’t like where we’ve over-relied upon the police as a de facto mental health service.

Policing is not the problem here – the extent to which we rely upon policing: THAT’s the problem here; and I worry that we will continue to make deliberate choices, as we have for decades, to make this problem worse, not better. Then we’ll wonder why all the guidelines and all the training for policing made no difference, whilst failing to realising we didn’t do anything about the fundamental problem.

IMG_0053IMG_0052Winner of the President’s Medal from
the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.


 Originally posted at

Similar Stories

Who are they .??? Posted on 26th October 2013
Shotguns aren't the problem – criminals are - Telegraph Posted on 22nd December 2010
Crime Maps Posted on 01st February 2011
Waxing & waning (2) Posted on 12th December 2013
Policing By Consent Posted on 11th August 2011