Unique Collaboration Sees the First Role of its Kind in the UK

An innovative new project in Cornwall has seen a collaborative arrangement between Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust (CFT) and Devon and Cornwall Police.

Unique Collaboration Sees the First Role of its Kind in the UK

This unique collaboration has introduced a Neighbourhood Officer Angel of Prevention and Engagement. The role is the first of its kind in the UK, with specific responsibilities in the areas of mental health and the criminal justice interface.

Historically, local police officers are involved with mental health patients on an ad-hoc basis, not allowing time to develop relationships with partner agencies. Often this ad-hoc basis is the cause of misunderstanding, wasted resources and inappropriate outcomes for vulnerable patients.

By bridging the gap between the police and mental health services, the new project allows for police to gain a better understanding of the mental health act and the responsibilities and capabilities of those involved. The project aims to ensure that anyone experiencing a mental health crisis receives the best possible care and treatment in a safe, and if required, secure environment.
Statistics show that:

• Approximately 40% of police activity in Cornwall relates to individuals with mental health issues.
• In 2016, police officers responded to 302 calls at the two inpatient units in Cornwall.
• During the same time, police have used their power under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 283 times.
• The top ten repeat individuals relate to 15% of those incidents.
• Further research shows that each detention under Section 136 uses on average 511 minutes of police officer time.

To try and improve the situation and look to establish protocols that are understood by all parties, a partnership pilot was formed between CFT and Devon and Cornwall Police to appoint a co-funded police officer for mental health inpatient wards.

PC Allerton-Baldwin who was appointed for the role, was regularly called out to incidents of alleged assault by those in mental health crisis, either on other patients or staff during his days as a Neighborhood Beat Manager in Bodmin, Cornwall. Recognising the need to connect inpatient staff and the police, he designed a criminality flowchart to signpost through different scenarios of criminal behaviour on the wards and towards the best appropriate action. The flowchart was supported by additional training, which was mainly based around where mental health patients sit in relationship to the criminal justice system and to dispel myths which formed a culture lacking positive police action.

“Previously, staff told me that the wards are lawless places where patients can do anything and get away with it” commented PC Allerton-Baldwin.

He continued “The situation was adversely affecting staff who felt unprotected, unable to maintain a positive therapeutic environment for their patients and were physically and mentally worn out, with implications of sickness absence and suchlike.

“Previously CFT and police staff were constantly clashing over issues surrounding where mental health patients sit in relation to the criminal justice system. Now we work together for the single most important person at the center of this – the patient.”

By clarifying where exactly mental health patients sit in relation to the criminal justice system, staff have commented that they “have a greater understanding and more realistic expectations around reporting and investigation of offenses committed within inpatient settings.”

Results from the flowchart show a 50% reduction in incident reporting and has ensured that not one person has been taken to a police station as a criminal, but to a place of safety in an ambulance, and as a patient. In recent times, around 500 mentally ill people a year used to go into police cells in Cornwall. Now 250 are taken to Longreach House as their place of safety and in the past year not a single person has been taken into custody.

Data collected from the 2017/2018 financial year was compared to the six month period prior to the project launch. Data demonstrated a significant reduction in low harm incidents and an improved correlation between incidents and crimes recorded and investigated.* Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabularies noted in their report that the work undertaken by PC Allerton-Baldwin and CFT was highly commended as an example of best practice and innovation in their Devon and Cornwall Report (dated 8 May). National Police Chiefs, Council Mental Health Forum and Merseyside Police have reported on the project, with Merseyside Police using similar aspects of the project within their teams for several years.

The success of the pilot is still continuing, with the flowchart now being available in every police station and mental health ward in Cornwall. PC Allerton-Baldwin’s role has been co-funded permanently by CFT and Devon and Cornwall Police, and he can regularly be found on the wards at Longreach House and Bodmin Community Hospital.