Matthew Scott is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.
Mental health was at the forefront of my campaign to become Kent’s new Police and Crime Commissioner. Why? Because for all the other challenges that modern day policing faces, responding to mental health incidents has now become one of the biggest pressures on policing resources. Forces across the country report that it is taking up substantial amounts of officers’ time as they are being deployed to incidents.
When I was first selected to stand as the Conservative candidate in November 2015 around a quarter of police time in Kent was being spent dealing with cases involving mental health. This has now risen to around a third.
I took up my position just over three months ago and have been gathering evidence on the impact this is having on frontline policing. Officers in Kent have been incredibly forthcoming and willing to share their experiences of such incidents, such as when two officers had to drive a vulnerable young person from Kent to Yorkshire to get the person the support they needed. Another more recent incident saw officers taking someone in mental health crisis to an out-of-county facility to find that the mental health bed promised had been given away before they arrived, forcing them to source another bed and travel again, covering a total of 120 miles. Each of these circumstances occupied two officers and a car for their entire shifts.
Incidents like these prove to me that I was right to make mental health a priority.
Where there is a risk of threat or harm, it’s absolutely right that the police are involved. In other circumstances they should not act in place of other services that should have been provided. I believe such instances add to the stigma, still sadly associated with mental health, that we have done so much to address.
Kent Police is already taking action. It has counsellors from the mental health charity Mind in the control room who have been funded to talk to vulnerable members of the public phoning Kent Police, where appropriate. This has allowed call handlers and frontline officers more time to deal with crime. I have continued to fund this initiative and am looking at way of expanding it.
I am holding a review of mental health and policing in Kent so that we can look at this and other ways to free up officer time and ensure people get the right support from the right public body. I’ll be looking at the increase in detentions under the Mental Health Act, the use of police cells, and the street triage system, where nurses go out on calls with PCs.
My review will also include and consult the NHS, social services, and others who are involved in the treatment of those with mental health conditions. Where necessary, there will be challenge as well.
Responding to mental health incidents is a substantial issue and there will always be times where it is appropriate that a police response is dispatched. My ambition over the next four years is to find ways to reduce the amount of time Kent Police spend responding to incidents of mental health crisis, whilst ensuring that those in need of help get the support they need from the appropriate service.