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Mental health incidents 'are placing a major strain on Cambridgeshire's frontline police'

Police Officers Jess Denniff (correct) and Gary May on patrol on Fen Rd, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
Police Officers Jess Denniff (correct) and Gary May on patrol on Fen Rd, Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

While knife crime and drug rings grab headlines, police officers are saying that the real strain on the county's police force is caused by mental health related incidents.

These are the incidents that are among the most resource-intensive that the force has to deal with, and a shortfall in the funding needed across agencies at all levels means the police spend significant time dealing with people who have “fallen through the cracks”, rather than fighting crime.

Working with the NHS, officers deal with an average 800 incidents a month.

Police constable Jess Denniff, of Cambridge’s north area team, specialises in mental health.

She said: “People are falling through the cracks of agencies where they’ve either stopped being supported for whatever reason, or they’ve chosen to stop being supported. That’s when they tend to come onto our radar.”

Community, councils and the NHS all provide support to people on different levels. PC Denniff said trying to get to the right service for support can be “a minefield to navigate”.

“If those services can’t hold them for whatever reason, if they’re under-funded, if they’re not in the right place for them, whatever it might be, then they’ll come to us, in crisis,” PC Denniff continued.

When this happens, officers say a single mental health incident can take an entire shift to ensure that person gets the support they need.

Sgt Tracy Williams, who leads the city’s north area team, said there are agreements in place between police and the NHS to determine who takes responsibility for a person who needs care, but often the care is not sufficient and police are stretched when they become a danger once again.

Sgt Williams told the Cambridge Independent: “A large proportion of calls for service are mental health related which are resource intensive and carry significant risk for all those involved.

“Our visibility on the streets has significantly reduced due to a high level of calls for service, leading people to believe that we are being idle and not concerned about our residents, which is not the case. We need to prioritise the calls coming in and, if we have a person who is at risk of harm from themselves or others, they will be top of our priority list.

“When people with mental health issues return to their daily lives yet are still suffering symptoms, the risk they pose to themselves or others is possibly still there.

“We need to be there for them as they are suffering. However, we realise that this the amount of time taken with each incident can be seen to be to the detriment of those who also need our help.”

The latest stats from Public Health England, from 2015-16, show that fewer than a third of people referred for treatment for depression in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough completed the course.

The same data set reports that of the people who completed the course, 43.9 per cent were “moving to recovery”.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, which provides mental health and community healthcare, said: “Police officers are often the first people to come into contact with those in mental health crisis.

“It is one of the reasons why a team of our staff have been based in the control room at Cambridgeshire police headquarters at Hinchingbrooke since 2016.

“They provide frontline officers with immediate advice on the best way to support people.

“Since the introduction of the integrated mental health team they have dealt with an average of 800 incidents a month.

“We work very closely with Cambridgeshire police, and it should be noted that those with mental health issues are more likely to be the victims of crime than others.”

Stephen Buckley, from mental health charity Mind, said attitudes towards mental health are improving and more people are seeking support.

Visit cpft.nhs.uk.

Visit mind.org.uk.

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