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Commissioner Backs Cell Ban for Emergency Detention of Mentally Ill

28th May 2015

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird has given her backing to plans to stop the use of police cells for the emergency detention of mentally ill people.

Home Secretary Theresa May has pledged a ban on this under the Mental Health Act as part of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

The news has been welcomed by Commissioner Baird who said Northumbria Police is already leading the way it handles mental health, including the introduction of a street triage team.

The team was introduced in 2014 and sees Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (NTW) working together to improve services for people experiencing mental health crisis. The service is also designed to avoid unnecessary detentions when using section 136 of the Mental Health Act. Police can use this power if they believe a person has a mental illness and is in need of care.

This collaborative working achieves the best outcome for patients ensuring they receive the right service, in a timely way and with the least possible restrictions.

Commissioner Baird said: “I have always made it clear that custody suites are for those suspected of committing a crime, not for people who are suffering from mental health.

“I’m all too aware that people who come into contact with the police may need to be assessed and considered as potentially needing some mental health support or assistance which is why the street triage team was introduced.

“In Northumbria, we also have nurses in our custody suites who can provide support to people suffering from mental health.

“Supporting vulnerable people is a high priority in my police and crime plan and by better understanding some of the people committing crimes in our community through positive partnership work, we can provide the much needed help and support.”

Theresa May has also outlined plans to extend police-led prosecutions and to overhaul the complaints system.

Commissioner Baird introduced a complaints triage system in January 2014.  The team, based at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, was set up to improve the handling of complaints. Every complainant is spoken to within 24-hours of their receipt of their communication with potential resolutions within 48-hours.

Commissioner Baird said: “We are also leading the way in revolutionising the complaints service for Northumbria.

“Through our expert team we let victims know we care about what they are telling us; that we want to understand fully what their concerns are and most importantly we want to help find a resolution as quickly as possible.”

Changes in the use of bail are also on Theresa May’s agenda, an issue Commissioner Baird has previously campaigned for.

She said: “I welcome changes to the use of bail. In Northumbria, police are making more use of asking people to come to the police station voluntarily which in turn reduces the demand on custody suites.

“A maximum of 12-weeks would give the police a reasonable time to investigate while not imposing greatly on personal liberty.

“There is currently too much of an injustice being suffered by many people who may never be charged with an offence but are spending their lives on restrictive bail.

“Introducing changes to this would settle this issue.”