Health professionals to help Brighton and Hove police cut the number of mentally ill people locked in cells
More mentally ill people were taken into custody by Sussex Police than by any other force in the country in the past financial year.
A new triage scheme is about to be brought in to tackle the problem in Brighton and Hove which has a high proportion of people with mental health problems.
Mental health professionals will work alongside police officers and assess people who may be in need of treatment and care.
The scheme has been tested elsewhere in Sussex and has helped reduce the numbers held in police cells as a place of safety under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.
The force said that the trend for using police cells in this way was downward.
However, the latest figures, published today (Monday 8 June) by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, are markedly higher for Sussex than for other forces.
Separate figures for Brighton and Hove were unavailable at the time of publication.
Superintendent Julia Pope said: “We agree with mental health experts that a police cell is not the right place for someone who is having a mental health crisis.
“The number of people being detained under the Mental Health Act in Sussex has fallen in recent years although it still remains higher than in some other parts of the country.
“The higher number is in part due to the compassionate behaviour of our officers and staff. In Sussex we have been proactive in using the Mental Health Act to get support for those who need it.
“However, we recognised that in previous years too many people with mental health issues have been taken into custody when they needed help and support from health experts rather than police officers.
“We have worked with partners including Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust on developing initiatives such as the street triage scheme, where officers go on patrol with mental health professionals.
“Police officers are not trained healthcare professionals and having experts with us has allowed people to be assessed by the staff and given help.
“In the past many of those people would have been taken into custody so they could be assessed. Now they do not need to be.
“The scheme has had a dramatic impact on reducing the number of people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act who have been taken into custody.
“In 2010-11 a total of 1,923 people were detained, of whom 1,212 (63 per cent) were taken to police custody.
“In comparison, in 2014-15 a total of 1,424 people were detained, of whom 710 (50 per cent) were taken to police custody.
“For example, in West Sussex between February and April 2014 a total of 113 people were taken into custody to be assessed.
“After street triage was introduced, a total of 24 people were taken into custody to be assessed in the same period this year – a reduction of more than 78 per cent.
“We are now working to introduce street triage in Brighton and Hove.
“In addition, since 1 April we have stopped taking children with mental health issues into custody in Sussex except in exceptional circumstances.
“Instead they are taken to a designated hospital-based place of safety so they can be assessed in more appropriate surroundings.
“Another Sussex initiative is the Sussex Police and Court Liaison and Diversion scheme which began as a pilot project in 2012.
“The scheme provides specialist professionals to assess the mental health needs of vulnerable people in police custody or at court from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.
“The project has already had a great deal of success in helping people access appropriate services and excellent partnerships have been developed between healthcare professionals, police officers and probation workers.
“We are continuing to work with partners to find the best way to help and support people with mental health issues and hope to reduce the number of people who need to be assessed while in custody even further.”
Progress will also relieve some of the current pressure on the Sussex Police budget as each detention also comes at a financial price.
The Home Secretary Theresa May said last month that an extra £15 million would be allocated for suitable schemes.