The Independent Police Complaints Commission has today published its report on the Police Use of Force. As always with any discussion about the most sensitive and complicated areas of policing, mental health features heavily within in it and there are some quite revealing findings. This is just a short post to cover it, you can read the full report and its own executive summary on the IPCC website. If you want the whilstle-stop tour of that document, read the summary near the start and then leap to page 55 for the section on mental health.
My first concern with all of this is the same concern I have about other approaches: talking about mental illness or mental disorder immediate invites us to believe in a clear division between those concepts and mental wellbeing and mental order,
But the headlines are –
These are quite small samples, so standard caution to small samples applies. In almost three quarters of the incdients which led to complaints or investigations, the police had been called to encounter the vulnerable person by a third-party because of a concern for welfare. This for me, links back to the broader point about the extent to which we have come to rely upon and see the police as a de facto psychiatric emergency service. Indeed, the IPCC calls for greater investment in mental health services precisely because of this point.
Final point, the definition used by the IPCC for ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’ is limited and narrow and relates “to someone detained under the Mental Health Act or if they were a patient at a psychiatric hospital. It was also relevant if the person had previously attempted suicide, was suffering from depression, or had current or historical mental health concerns.” … in other words, it relies upon the current systems in policing to identify people, only some of which are supported by NHS or other screening approaches. So this report will have under-identified people who featured in complaints who match these definitions, made a choice not disclose and were not flagged by the police to third parties.
MENTAL HEALTH RECOMMENDATIONS
Oh, and as a postscript: regarding the explanation of the legal basis for the use of force on page 1 – there are many more legal justifications and defences to the use of force than s3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 and they are especially relevant to mental health and vulnerability. They include s117 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1983, the Mental Health 1983, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 as well as some others. And the Human Rights Act did not receive Royal Assent in 2000. I’ll just leave those thoughts there – you’re welcome.