Camden police left to 'act as nurses' amid public sector cutbacks, top officer warns
PUBLISHED: 09:48 01 June 2015 | UPDATED: 09:48 01 June 2015
Camden's top police officer has questioned the role his force now plays in dealing with mentally ill residents, warning some of his officers' actions are having "catastrophic consequences" for vulnerable people.
Borough commander Chief Supt Richard Tucker said police in Camden were being inundated with “many, many thousands of calls” simply asking officers untrained in mental health to check on vulnerable residents’ welfare.
Asking whether this was a job for the police, he warned a significant proportion of police time was now spent on “social need vacated by the other public services”.
His comments were made at the Camden Safer Neighbourhood Board meeting at Camden Town Hall last Thursday (May 21).
Chief Supt Tucker said: “We had 34,000 calls [to the police] last year. We don’t have 34,000 offences.
“People call us for a range of issues, mental health probably being our key driver. We must be London Ambulance’s biggest customer.
“We get many, many thousands of calls to do a welfare check – just to pop round to see if someone’s all right. Is that our job?
“[Mental health] is number one on our organisation’s risk register because a lot of the time we have no legal powers to deal with these people. We’re not trained to.
“In some cases officers have got themselves into serious trouble by restraining vulnerable people. There can be catastrophic consequences. It’s not just Camden – I would say it is a challenge for the police as a whole. The Met police have picked up a lot of social need that’s been vacated by other public services.”
The comments come as the borough commander said his force faced a “challenging time ahead” due to continued budget cuts.
The Met has already been forced to shed £600million and is facing the same task, he said, “over the next five years”.
At the same time, the impact of cuts in mental health budgets has been felt locally, with the main provider of mental health services in Camden seeing a dramatic reduction in resources.
Camden and Islington NHS Trust (C&I) has been one of the hardest hit mental health trusts in terms of cuts over the past four years, losing the second highest proportion of its beds and the highest proportion of its nurses between 2011 and 2014.
Camden police – which covers a borough with one of the highest mental health needs in the country – is also battling to meet ambitious targets to see a 20 per cent reduction in certain neighbourhood crimes by 2016.
In a speech given to the Police Federation last Wednesday, home secretary Theresa May vowed to “reduce the amount of time the police spend dealing with people suffering from mental health issues”, saying: “Police officers are not social workers, they are not mental health nurses, or paramedics. I will do everything I can to reduce other unnecessary demands on policing.”