Last week the Independent Commission on Mental Health and Policing, initiated by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), published its report. As one of the commissioners, I fully support the findings and recommendations made. It was a brave decision by the Met Police to entrust us with such a task and they deserve credit for this.
We looked in detail at more than 50 individual cases where someone died or was seriously injured after police contact over a five year period. The majority of cases were suicides, either in custody or following an inadequate response from the MPS. We expect the police's first job to be crime prevention but the police also have a remit to preserve life.
Some cases are high profile stories covered extensively in the media. Others are equally tragic stories of missed opportunities, administrative failings and a lack of joined-up working with other agencies, which didn't attract media attention but where the end result was the same - a life lost.
The Commission also invited evidence from people with direct experience the MPS' approach to mental health. We found many examples of excellent practice by the police in London and beyond. People told us that some policemen and women treated them with dignity and respect and helped them access the right services.
However, we also found that in many cases people felt the police didn't understand mental health or its implications for how to handle an incident. We heard of a lack of empathy, respect or compassion, which has damaged relationships between individuals and the police. We heard of people whose crises escalated due to a partial intervention, or a lack of joined-up working with the ambulance service or NHS.
Most importantly, we found that, in many cases, deaths and serious injuries were preventable and that, if our recommendations are implemented, they are unlikely to be repeated.
The Commission has called for mental health to be seen as part of the core business of the Met. This is partly because that's the reality on the ground. When one in four people have a mental health problem, there's a reasonable chance that a victim of crime, someone caught up in a public disturbance, or a perpetrator of a crime has a mental health problem. We need to see better training and support for officers and a co-ordination of approach from the police and other agencies to overcome the problems the force currently faces.
We realise this may not be easy. Our recommendations are hard hitting, and the Commission, ably led by Lord Adebowale CBE, is optimistic that they will be adopted. If they are, people with mental health problems and the wider community in London will be better supported and safer. We should expect nothing less.