In Focus: Mental Health Cop - Michael Brown

This article appears in the May 2014 edition of the College newsletter.

Inspector Michael Brown, who tweets as @mentalhealthcop, is working with us as part of our review of training and guidance to support police officers and staff in their response to people with mental health issues. (Read more about the review.) Here he offers his thoughts.

There is much to be said about policing and mental health that could improve the world.  We could talk about fairness in health funding or how NHS services are commissioned and delivered. We could get extremely specific about place of safety services, ensuring a proper response to incidents in private premises or the difficulties encountered when managing vulnerable detainees who are also intoxicated by drugs or alcohol. 

However important all of that is, absolutely none of it - ultimately - is within our control and I have long since thought that whatever our view of our mental health system or wider NHS, there is much that individual police officers, individual police forces and now the College of Policing could do to improve our ability to manage demands connected to mental distress in society.

Three years of using social media to raise awareness of all things policing, mental health and criminal justice has taught me that most officers want knowledge and training on this.

Most of the questions I receive - dozens of them each week - are legal in nature: 

  • What powers do officers have, what are the responsibilities and powers of other professionals? 
  • What is it we could do and what is it we should do to ensure the safety and wellbeing of others without trespassing on the responsibilities of others?

The more I learned about mental health law, the easier it has become to police operationally - including in those situations where partnerships are not operating in an ideal way, for whatever reason. Even if the system doesn't work perfectly, I understand how I can do the best that is possible to survive scrutiny with criticism.

We need knowledge - predominantly of the legal kind.

I would love to see the College of Policing develop a set of training products and resources that reflect the needs of all officers - mental health touches every area of policing, at every rank. Build our knowledge and thus our confidence to impact on this expanding area of business. The queries I receive come from response officers, custody sergeants, neighbourhood policing teams, investigators of all kinds from uniformed volume crime teams, to detectives and SIOs. They also come from inspectors, superintendents and ACPO officers about how to better structure partnership arrangements. 

Duty inspectors and Force Incident Managers have particular needs, I would argue and I remain convinced that the United Kingdom needs training programmes of depths that reflect the complexity and the risks inherent in this work.

We also need to utilise technology to deliver support to decision-makers: internet resources, smartphone apps with clear legal materials and it would be ground-breaking if the College of Policing could work on that material jointly with other professional colleges, including paramedics, social work and the medical/nursing Royal Colleges.

If the solutions are inter-agency, then the leadership and training needs to be too.

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