LOCKING teens and adults with mental health issues in police cells should become a rare event, a top officer has said.
DS Mark Walters said in the past police had ‘very wrongly’ been too quick to keep people in crisis in custody overnight but now the focus was shifting to taking them to more appropriate places of safety.
His statements came after the Observer obtained figures showing between 2012 and the end of November 2014 there were a total of 65 people kept in custody for at least four hours between midnight and 8am.
Of those 12 were in Redditch in 2012 and four in 2013 before the cells closed that November. Kidderminster had ten detained in 2012, seven in 2013 and one in 2014 and Worcester had 14 in 2012, 14 the year after and three last year.
While the act allows police to arrest anyone found suffering from mental disorder in a public place and take them to a medical venue or a cell for up to 72 hours – there has been increased pressure from the public to ensure detained unwell people in police stations is stopped.
DS Walters, lead for the mental health action plan for West Mercia and Warwickshire Police forces, said they would always look to take people to the Elgar Suite, a place of safety run by Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust in Worcester, unless it was a ‘really exceptional’ circumstance where they were being particularly violent to themselves or other people.
“In previous years they would go to police custody in the first instance then would be assessed by health professionals. The focus now is this is a health situation which should be treated by mental health professionals.
“We have been working for quite some time to try and improve the processes and improve infrastructure across the whole alliance.”
He added there was a multi-agency group which met to investigate what had happened every time a person was detained as well as there being an internal enquiry.
“We are educating officers about the last resort being custody and about looking for alternative places of safety. Very wrongly over the years we have been far too quick to put people within custody cells.
“Now the trend is downwards and we want to push it right down to being an extreme and rare event.”
The amount of time people are being kept after being arrested has reduced as three years ago the maximum length of stay in custody was 22 hours and 33 minutes while in 2013 it was 18 hours and last year it was ten hours and 37 minutes.
Those aged 18 were most likely to be taken into the cells, with a total of six in that age group across the 65 instances, but a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old were also detained in the three years.