'It's got too much' Chief Constable tells of mental health burden on police
'It's got too much'.
That's the verdict from Staffordshire Chief Constable Gareth Morgan on the burden facing the force as it deals with an unfolding mental health crisis in the county.
Mr Morgan spoke as a major review was launched into how police are increasingly dealing with the mentally ill who need medical help or care – diverting them from other duties.
The Chief Constable said in one month alone more than a third of people arrested said they had mental health conditions, half of which were addicted to drugs or alcohol.
He said: "I don't think the current situation is sustainable.
"I was out in Staffordshire in one of our policing areas and how I described it was 'uniformed social work'.
"The majority of calls on that evening were mental health related, whether it be someone threatening suicide or calling us because they couldn't access an out-of-hours GP and were in crisis.
"I am not naive enough to say it isn't part of our job to respond in some of these cases, but the public would not expect this to be our focus."
Staffordshire officers responded to more than 3,000 incidents involving someone with a mental health condition last year – up three-fold in four years.
A small number are ending up in police cells for their safety, but this number has reduced significantly.
A major review has been launched by Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Ellis into the scale of the problem facing police and public services posed by mental health cases.
It comes after officers revealed they were spending hours in A&E departments, ambulances, or in the back of police cars with people needing mental health care.
Mr Morgan said dealing with cases was putting extra strain on the force at a time when budgets and staff levels had drastically reduced.
He said: "Budgets are down, and the number of people available to do the job is lower than it was.
"I was at a public meeting and the issues people raised were anti-social behaviour, burglary, criminal damage. A couple of hours before I was having discussions about counter terrorism, regional organised crime – things we have to deal with a smaller budget amid more people going missing, domestic violence, child sexual exploitation and what we are seeing with mental health cases.
"We are not going to withdraw our help to people with mental health problems – that would never happen – but it is too much.
"We need to make the best use of public money and focus on what people think about when they think of policing."
Staffordshire Police is to work with the NHS in Staffordshire to see how the problem can be resolved.