Sigma project - February 09

I've met with Jim and his colleagues again for another interesting chat about how to take things forward.

He gave me some information about lay visitors and I wonder if this is something more of us should get involved in? They're independent members of the local community who visit police stations unannounced to check on the welfare of people who are in police custody.

I'd think it would be helpful if some of the lay visitors had a real understanding and experience of mental health problems. Having a criminal record or unspent convictions isn't an automatic barrier - all applications are considered on merit. So I assume experience of being detained under the Mental Health Act wouldn't be an automatic barrier either.

I'd be interested to hear of anyone's experience as a lay visitor - or applying to be one! Do you think it helps to make a difference?


Police and the mentally ill

I hope you do become a lay visitor, as it sounds very worthwhile. I recently found out that quite a lot of police time is taken up with the mentally ill. The policeman who wrote the Coppersblog diary told me: "Lots of police time is spent dealing with the mentally ill, mostly under section 136 of the mental health act, which enables us to detain the mentally ill if we feel that they present a danger to themselves or others. In reality, it's a time-consuming thing to do, because it means keeping the detainee under 24 hr observation until they can be assessed by the doctor and mental health workers. Also, it's usually the same people promising to kill themselves, but never actually doing it: we know they aren't going to do it, they know, our bosses know and the doctors know, but it's still the same procedure. I work in Canada now, where the laws are similar, but the whole process takes minutes rather than hours." His book is called "Wasting Police Time". The real-life police inspector "Gadget" in the book "Perverting the Course of Justice" tells of struggling to get a Mental Health Assessment Team to come and see a teenage girl who has attacked a doctor and nurses in hospital A&E. The team won't come because they think the girl is drunk or injured and has committed a criminal offence. The inspector finds a team sitting reading magazines waiting to see another man. The doctor wants to help, but the social workers refuse saying they are only there to see the man. The inspector tells them they have a duty of care, but he is not sure. "Haven't you a heart", he says. Her mother arrives and says the girl went "loopy" when her ex-husband who is on bail beat up her mother. The girl is later released as the custody sergeant does not think she is fit to be detained. The girl returns to the hospital and attacks the nurse who reported her. Good luck!

Police blog about mentally ill

The policeman's blog, coppersblog, has an entry about mental health for March 1st 2009. He tells how quickly he can deal with the mentally ill in Canada - just ten minutes at the hospital! See

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