The Met Police won't attend mental health calls – I'm overjoyed

It seems the Metropolitan Police and the Black community have finally found common ground. Rejoice.

Let’s break out the champagne for this rarity, as lives will be saved. It’s a win-win all round.

So, just what is the cause for this collective celebration where we both get what we want?

From 31 October, the Met Police will introduce a ‘threshold’, meaning police officers will only attend mental health incidents when there is a clear threat to life or a risk of serious harm. 

The need for a threshold adjustment is seen through the Met Police’s own data. 

According to the Guardian, the capital’s police force has identified that 78% of people currently detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act go on to be discharged home following assessment, suggesting mental health is being over-policed in London.

Currently, as a Black man in a mental health crisis, you are – according to the charity Mind – far more likely to be restrained by the cops and sectioned. Taser use is eight times higher for Black people than it is for our white counterparts.

Sadly, we are seven times more likely to be killed following restraint by police too.

Black men, such as Oladeji Omishore – who died last year after being tasered repeatedly on Chelsea Bridge – are particularly susceptible to death when interacting with police during a mental health crisis.

Just look at what happened earlier this year in Peckham where a man – who was reportedly in distress – tragically lost his life after a taser was used on him while he stood on a balcony ledge.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

With the right care and the right person to deliver it, individuals in crisis have a better chance of a positive life outcome.

Right Care, Right Person (RCRP) is an operations model developed by Humberside Police and it’s in the process of being rolled out throughout the UK. Underpinning this is the assurance that the correct agency will deal with health-related calls instead of the police, as part of a government-backed approach aimed at reducing demand on all services.

A public health approach of this kind represents a welcome change in direction from the over-policing we have become accustomed to. Not to mention the inevitable loss of life that comes with this.

However, in the midst of our rejoicing, it appears it is now being rolled out at exponential speed.

Since it was first announced at the end of May this year, the police have just two months left to transition to this new model. So I wonder: Is that enough time to get things right?

RCRP sounds good if it were given the necessary time to be rolled out in a phased way or if the right mechanisms were already in place.

Many in the field – like Dr Sarah Hughes, CEO of the mental health charity, Mind – are already expressing major concern. She said: ‘There are still many unanswered questions about how this will work in practice… time, patience, and communication are crucial.’

On top of that, the Policing Minister Chris Philp highlighted that 1million police hours could be freed up. Yet there has been little consideration of exactly how London’s under-resourced healthcare teams can parachute into this space.

At the heart of this approach is the assurance that more people will be helped to thrive and survive, while the police get on with their area of expertise in preventing and dealing with crime. 

However, I can see why – at a time of heightened mistrust of the police – many Londoners won’t be thrilled with the idea of more police prowling the streets. I can personally attest to sounding the alarm via social media as I am deeply worried. 

It’s highly apparent that the Black community in particular have been dealt with in a dangerous manner when being policed by the Met. Let’s not forget this is an organisation that various reports – including Scarman, Macpherson, Lammy and Casey – have detailed to be discriminatory. 

One thing that was abundantly clear from the recent launch of the Alliance for Police Accountability (APA), an organisation that is set to canvas the Black community on what a reimagined police service could be, is that it cannot be assumed what a ‘New Met for London’ should look like.

The right answers always come from the right questions, but the Black community has yet to be asked – a point they will hopefully seek to rectify in the coming months. 

The speed at which this is unfolding will not be without its teething problems. This is a very dangerous way to deal with an issue that needs more time for its rollout than is currently being allowed.

The police are in an unenviable position for which I have no sympathy. But I say it’s about time they save Black men’s lives by taking themselves out of the equation.

As we approach the one year anniversary of the killing of Chris Kaba, it seems clear to me that the Metropolitan Police – who were placed in ‘special measures’ last year – have learned nothing about openness, honesty and working with Black communities.

If they are to be given more time to interact with members of the public, this is a powder keg waiting to explode.

I just hope they know what they’re doing.

But for now we should all feel optimistic for this new approach. I certainly do.

So, let’s raise our glasses and celebrate the Black lives that will be spared, the families of those who won’t experience heartbreak and the triumph this represents in the form of intelligence led policing being finally applied to where it has desperately been lacking.

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