Taking over an ACPO Portfolio always seems to bring with it a very steep learning curve. As ACPO’s new lead for mental health and disability I do find myself engaged in trying to approach that challenge.
There are some very real issues to confront. Notably the Equality and Human Rights Commission report ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’, which has really focused the service on how it is supporting those experiencing disability harassment. The report outlines ten critical incidents and then highlights a series of areas where improvements could be made.
I am now chairing ACPO’s EHRC Coordinating Group, which is pulling together the service’s response to the report. It is quite clear that the service is very much on a journey, with the requirement to record disability hate crime having been implemented in April 2008 but very different rates of reporting. Different forces have taken different approaches, but those who seem to be making the most progress have engaged with disabled members of local communities (very much in the spirit of “nothing about us without us”), they have had clear expectations set by their leadership and they are continually working to increase the amount of reporting and access to our services.
Training is also key. Many forces have delivered their own bespoke packages; certainly my own has done more than one set of training following on from the learning from the Pilkington case. The National Policing and Improvement Agency is now ensuring that disability hate crime features in their core leadership packages, that information about the EHRC is available on the POLKA system and that there is a link between the EHRC report and other ongoing pieces of work around violence and situational vulnerability.
The EHRC is not the only piece of work that is ongoing within the portfolio. I recently met with the mental health practitioners representing each of the ACPO regions at a mental health forum hosted here in Leicester. It is clear that great strides are being made around dealing with Section 136 of the Mental Health Act and places of safety, with some forces reporting 80 per cent-plus of mental health detainees going straight to places of safety. The guidance talks about police cells only being used in “exceptional” circumstances and only where risks are “unmanageable” to health staff. It also suggests that all transport around mental health should be made by ambulances. Making sure that this is the reality of local delivery is now a key aim for the portfolio.
At the same time, work to introduce NHS-led and commissioned services into the police custody environment grows apace. There are now some ten forces working within an early adopter scheme with another twenty places available this year. Details have been circulated to ACPO colleagues and at present it looks like this will be over-subscribed and some choices will have to be made. All of this is about putting the patient first and ensuring that access to proper mental health services is allowed to happen. ACPO guidance on dealing with individuals with mental ill health and learning disability is a really useful document that helps to shape what we should be doing on a day to day basis as a police service, and includes custody. It is well worth a look.
There are other pieces of work that have great significance. I was proud to sign the ‘Stand by Me’ police promise with MENCAP at a recent event here in Leicester. The promise is that the service will stand by people with a learning disability to end hate crime, and there are ten pledges which I would summarise about being accessible and supportive in a way that I am sure we will seek to be. For instance, the ninth pledge is that we hold regular beat meetings and ensure that they are open to people with disabilities. I know that the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, recently spoke at a debate in the Palace of Westminster where she encouraged police forces to sign up to the promise. At present over half have done so.
Many will recall the Bradley Report, a seminal report for the criminal justice world. Lord Bradley reviewed the dealings of the criminal justice system with those with mental health problems or learning disabilities and made a number of recommendations. That was in 2009. In 2012 those recommendations are being assessed and I have been invited to represent ACPO on the overarching strategic review body. This is important work and it will be interesting to see how consistently Bradley’s recommendations have been taken forward.
All of this fits within the Government’s ‘No Health without Mental Health’ cross-government mental health strategy. That will be further supported in the coming months with a cross-government hate crime strategy.
I was privileged to share the stage at the recent ACPO Autumn Conference with Mike Smith, Chair of the EHRC Inquiry. While Mike acknowledged that the police service has made positive strides to improving service to disabled communities, he set out a fundamental challenge to us all. His challenge was that people with disabilities simply did not believe that public authorities would respond to their call for improved service. Their disbelief was based on 20 years of raising the same issues and feeling that there had not been a significant response. I have been lucky to inherit a portfolio that has already started to shape that response; I know the service will respond to the challenge and improve what we are doing.
Simon Cole is ACPO lead for mental health and disability, and is Chief Constable of Leicestershire Constabulary.