Prevention, not arrest

Greater cooperation between the emergency services, social services, doctors and schools is needed to avoid a person’s struggle with mental health spiralling into criminality, writes former police officer Dan Heley

Policing is in crisis. It has been for years and during that time little has been to alleviate the stresses and strains placed upon our men and women in blue. On the contrary, the 2011 Hutton Review merely served to exacerbate the situation by making officers earn less, work longer and pay more for their pensions. This – coupled with the unprecedented strains being placed upon the working lives of officers and the worst cuts seen in a generation – has resulted in over 20,000 fewer police staff from 7 years ago.

It is no coincidence that this coincided with the end of thirteen years of Labour government that had placed law and order front and centre of social policy with increased police numbers and expanded police powers by adding to the number of arrestable offences, compulsory DNA recording and the introduction of dispersal orders.

The Tories are no longer the party of crime and order they once were. ‘Soft on crime and the causes of crime’ would be an apt slogan to attribute to those that have placed the police service under a sustained attack of cuts and demoralisation that has hit officers hard. The least that we as a society can provide for those we ask to run into danger while everyone else is running the opposite direction is to pay them well, give them the resources they require and leave them with a pension that will look after them in their old age. When I joined the police one of the first thing’s we were told by the trainer was that our life expectancy after working on response policing for our entire career was a mere five years.

Labour’s shadow policing minister, Louise Haigh, is doing a fantastic job of creating a vision of what a Labour government’s platform would be when it comes to the police service. As a former special constable she has experienced first-hand the stresses and strains which comes with being an operational officer. This experience is invaluable to the party in having a shadow minister who really understands the operational necessities and challenges faced by police officers.

Visibility is key when it comes to reassurance to the public and deterrence to criminals. A public poll carried out this year on behalf of the HM Inspector of Constabulary found 36 per cent of people had not seen a police officer or PCSO on foot in their area in the past year. It is neighbourhood officers who form a vital link between the public and the police which can provide invaluable intelligence on criminal and suspicious activity, which in a new age of terrorism has resulted in numerous terrorists plots being thwarted before they can be carried out.

A core area of work the police increasingly find themselves dealing with is dealing with those suffering a mental health crisis and as a society we must change the way we respond to such individuals if we are to not only prevent them from spiralling into a life of crime but improve their lives and give them the helping hand they need. This requires a joined-up response from a host of services if it is to succeed.

In many areas there are already programmes when it comes to responding to mental health emergencies with a police response team comprising of an officer, mental health practitioner and a paramedic to deal jointly with those requiring immediate help. From officers I know who perform such duties they have said that in areas where this has been introduced it has been hugely effective in improving the outlook for the patient as well as freeing up response officers to deal with other calls.

In the long term their needs to be closer cooperation between the emergency services, social services, doctors, schools and other agencies so that help is given earlier in a person’s struggle with mental health so that all that is possible is done to intervene and prevent someone from spiralling downwards, and from experience often into the realms of criminality due to no fault of their own.

Without social mobility being available to people; the option to receive a good education, training and employment, affordable housing so that they can move out and create a home of their own and a wage that they can live on then the temptation of crime will always lead some down the wrong path. This is not to excuse people from striving to be the best they can be with constant handouts from the state, but fulfilling one of the founding philosophies of the party in striving to give a helping hand to those worst off in society, a safety net for those in need.

The Tories have decimated the police service. Each and every one of us not only has a social responsibility to ensure that those that need help receive it, but that those offering the help are given the resources, working conditions and wages that they not only need, but deserve.

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Dan Heley is a former police officer. He tweets at @DanHeley1

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