CAMPAIGN: A protest in 2012 over deaths in custody
AN INQUIRY into the way the Metropolitan Police deals with individuals diagnosed with mental health problems has concluded that the force must take immediate action to reduce the likelihood of deaths or serious injury.
The Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing report, published its landmark report on Friday, May 10.
The report was especially critical of police restraint methods.
It said: “The tactics and behaviour used to restrain people with mental health issues is the most disturbing of our findings and one over which the police have the power to take complete control to improve their practice.”
In one case involving a black man, the commission heard his fear and anger were alleged to have been “exacerbated when the police intervened with handcuffs and restraint in a hospital setting.
“His struggling included remarks against the police for treating him like a criminal” the report said.
This was a common complaint across the board from black and minority ethnic (BME) service users.
“We were told that the police, who had some knowledge of their illness and were responding on that account, treated them as criminals” it continued. “They were handcuffed (often unnecessarily in their view) and large numbers of police attended when there was not a credible threat of violence.”
Casework from INQUEST showed that a disproportionate number of those who die in police custody following the use of force are from a BME background.
In 2011, they accounted for 38 per cent of all deaths in police custody.
An IPCC review of deaths in custody over a ten-year period, published in 2012, also found that black and mixed race people, were significantly more likely to be restrained than people from white European backgrounds.
Anecdotal evidence revealed that race is at the very least an aggravating factor when young black men are involved.
One man of mixed heritage described how on two separate experiences in Brixton up to five police officers turned up to question him on the street with no evidence of an offence taking place.
He described their behaviour as “threatening and intimidating, appearing agitated and prepared to use force as necessary.
A damning internal report conducted by the Met in 2012 found that officers had a negative attitude towards race.
Up to 15 per cent thought learning about diversity was a waste of time, and 13 per cent were angry that it was a waste of resources.
IMPROVEMENTS: Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe ordered the report
Evidence included in the commission’s report noted that new recruits who went on to become new leaders had no “corporate memory” of the 1999 Macpherson report into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The report identified institutional racism in the force for the first time.
The report agreed that “issues of racism continue to be prevalent within the MPS”, an observation underscored by the evidence gathered by the Commission in relation to mental health.
It said: “It is likely that these views will have an impact on how some MPS officers, including frontline officers and custody officers, respond to people from BME communities.”
It recommended that the Met “establish a high level expert group of stakeholders that can provide it with ongoing and specific advice and review; which are aimed at improvements in outcomes with regard to race, faith and mental health” with immediate effect.
Hackney councillor Patrick Vernon OBE, who has had a long career in mental health, said: “We need to ensure that councillors, London Assembly Members, the Mayor of London and MPs ensure the Met Police implement all 28 recommendations from the report.
“The issue of the black community’s experience around mental health and policing is now a clear political priority. We all need to lobby and support the families and human right organisations.”
The report has made 28 recommendations for change focusing across three core areas: leadership, frontline and inter-agency working.
The investigation was ordered by Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe last year after a number of high-profile deaths following police contact. A disproportionate number of those cases involved black men with mental health problems.
The Commission was chaired by mental health expert Lord Victor Adebowale and examined 55 cases where individuals died or suffered serious injury following contact with police between September 2007 and September 2012.
Evidence included case reviews, the opinions of service users, police officers, interviews with families, professionals, interest groups and also analysis of the Met’s internal documents and procedures.
Nine families chose to respond.
Lord Adebowale said: “Whilst a report like this cannot take away their suffering, I hope that those who receive this report ensure that the recommendations are implemented in the name of the families as citizens who have lost loved ones in terrible circumstances. They deserve the reassurance that other families will not suffer the same loss.”
He added: “The Commission sought to provide actionable recommendations, so that there is a real opportunity for the Met to change their approach significantly to those with mental health issues in their everyday policing.”
A quarter of all cases examined showed “police response was entirely appropriate” with no lessons to be learned. The rest had shortcomings, the Commission found.
The most common errors were found at the offset when emergency calls are made to the Met’s Central Communications Command.
Telephone operators often failed to identify risk, pass on critical information that would help frontline police officers gauge whether the call was crime-related or a medical crisis.
Across the board, there was a lack of awareness and understanding of mental health issues and the inquiry recommended more training for police.