New police tactics to safeguard mentally ill as statistics reveal increased risk from crime

Dr Alan BillingsDr Alan Billings
Dr Alan Billings
Mental health patients are three times more likely to become victims of crime in South Yorkshire, new analysis by police reveals, with the risk of assault rising to five times that for the overall population.

The statistics reveal almost 13,000 reported incidents last year involved either victims or offenders with mental health problems, though it is believed the total may be so high because officers have made great strides in identifying problems where mental health is an underlying factor – with the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner believing his service is among the most advanced in dealing with the issue.

South Yorkshire Police staff are now trained to identify mental health problems when they are called to active incidents, allowing action to assist those involved rather than pursuing action as a criminal incident, which may have happened historically.

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The county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, said pioneering work had been done in the county to recognise acute behavioural disturbance, a condition which leaves those affected with behavioural issues.

South Yorkshire Supt Dan Thorpe is leading police nationally on the issue and, as a result of a national conference held recently in Sheffield, ABD has now been added to the national health agenda.

Dr Billings said: “Supt Thorpe is very much playing a national role, but it starts here in South Yorkshire.

“These are people behaving in a particular way in public places.

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“Police have to recognise this is ABD and is not someone one drugs or alcohol and that it needs appropriate help from the health services.

“That is the critical decision a police officer has to make. Supt Thorpe has been leading the way.

“I would say South Yorkshire is ahead of most forces in the country in being able to recognse that,” he said.

Supt Thorpe’s work had “enabled South Yorkshire Police to be much better prepared to help people in these circumstances than in some other force areas, where they may simply be dealt with as though they are just behaving badly in a public place,” said Dr Billings.

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“Because South Yorkshire Police, through Supt Thorpe and the work he has done, are now so aware of the issues recording (of incidents) here will be higher than elsewhere. That is because officers recognise mental health issues when they see them,” he said.

Senior officers in South Yorkshire believe action from officers in recognising ABD symptoms may have saved the lives of two people, specifically because officers were able to recognise the symptoms and trigger medical intervention.

One involved a man arrested due to his behaviour, who was handed over to the ambulance service allowing the NHS to take action credited with saving his life.

The second involved a violent detainee in police custody, who was recognised as being affected by ABD by the custody officer.

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A nurse working in the custody suite confirmed that diagnosis and he was immediately taken to a hospital accident and emergency unit to allow medics to take over his care, again credited with saving his life.

Elsewhere in the country, there have been incidents where ABD has led to the deaths of those affected by the condition.

A report compiled Dr Billings by South Yorkshire Police said: “We have a mental health strategic delivery plan and an excellent mental health toolkit for officers and staff to use when dealing with any mental health related incident.”

Overall, it is believed seven per cent of the county’s population are affected by common mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder.