WELSH police forces are picking up the slack caused by an increase in cuts to public services, according to the chief inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).
In his annual State of Policing report, Sir Thomas Winsor draws attention to material pressures on police forces in England and Wales, which put the service under strain.
Sir Thomas cited issues around handling people with mental health problems as one of the significant pressures placed on officers as well as online fraud.
“The police are considered to be the service of last resort,” said the chief inpsector, referring to mental health concerns.
“In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.
“The provision of mental healthcare has reached such a state of severity that police are often being used to fill the gaps that other agencies cannot.
“This is an unacceptable drain on police resources, and it is a profoundly improper way to treat vulnerable people who need care and help.
“The obligation of the police is to prevent crime.
This is not only because this makes society safer – both in reality and in perception – but also because it is far cheaper to prevent a crime than it is to investigate and arrest the offender after the event.
“The same is true of mental ill-health, which is not a crime.
“It is an old adage that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and this is particularly true when the cure fails and an emergency intervention is required to protect the safety of an individual in distress and, often, people nearby.
“By the time depression or some other mental disorder has been allowed to advance to the point that someone is contemplating suicide, or engaging in very hazardous behaviour, many opportunities to intervene will have been missed by many organisations.
“When that intervention takes place on a motorway bridge or railway line, or when someone is holding a weapon in a state of high distress, the expense to all concerned is far higher than it should be.
“The principal sufferer is the person who is ill, especially when it is realised that his or her suffering could have been much less or even avoided altogether.”
The report said that the police are particularly far behind many other organisations in the way they use technology and it should give the police an unprecedented ability to exchange, retrieve and analyse intelligence.
Last week, the HMIC reported that Gwent Police was operating at a ‘good’ level across its areas of inspection, The report found the force was good at keeping people safe and reducing crime in an “effective, efficient and legitimate” manner, maintaining its performance since the previous assessment last year.
The report added that it was good at preventing crime and tackling anti-social behaviour as well as engaging effectively with the public to identify concerns.
In response to the report, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Gwent, Jeff Cuthbert, said: “I am responsible for making sure the service provided by the police is efficient and effective. The people of Gwent should be proud of the Force’s performance and for the good level of service it provides.
"I would like to praise the Chief Constable, Jeff Farrar, for his efforts in leading the turnaround in the Force’s performance in recent years. Gwent Police has moved from requiring improvement across the board three years ago to being amongst the top performing Forces in England and Wales.”
The Chief Constable of Gwent Police, Jeff Farrar, said: “I am pleased to see that HMIC has recognised the significant effort that police officers and staff have undertaken in the past year to build upon performance and deliver a quality service to the public; but policing is a complex business and is changing quickly in a world in which technology is ever advancing. This means the threats facing Forces are developing rapidly across England and Wales and require close partnership working with other agencies to effectively tackle those challenges.
"Here in Gwent there is a clear mandate to work effectively within Public Service Boards to improve service delivery across agencies. Gwent Police is well-placed to meet both current and future demands on the service and this is supported through the assessment of HMIC in this report.”
Sir Thomas Winsor also warns against what he describes as the ‘insidious creep of expecting police forces to be able to deal with the increasing demand caused by a shortage in mental health provision’. This is also something that Gwent Police is well equipped to deal with according to Mr Cuthbert.
“We are planning to expand the successful Police Control Room Clinical Advisor (PCRCA) pilot project in partnership with Aneurin Bevan University Health Board which involves the deployment of a qualified mental health professional into Gwent Police’s Control Room,” he said.
“This is aimed at reducing demand on police officers where mental health is an underlying factor, managing risk and harm in relation to mental health crisis and to ensure that appropriate care and support is delivered in a timely way. We have also freed up some money to invest in areas such as the development of a multi-agency hub for the vulnerable.”