PSNI dealing with 20,000 mental health incidents a year

The number of police incidents caused by mental health crises has doubled, an audit office report said.

PSNI officers are expected to be able to manage or resolve mental health incidents, the report said
PSNI officers are expected to be able to manage or resolve mental health incidents, the report said

Northern Ireland’s justice system is increasingly being used as a service of last resort for those affected, the public spending watchdog revealed.

The total has gone from 9,000 in 2013 to more than 20,000 a year currently and frequently does not involve a criminal offence.

It reflects a trend of increasing demands placed upon officers as well as the PSNI becoming better at recording such incidents, the investigation said.

Auditor and comptroller general Kieran Donnelly said: “Justice organisations are increasingly working with individuals with mental health issues who have fallen between the gaps in wider public service.

“While the justice system is pursuing a range of reform measures to meet this challenge, the evidence to date suggests that more effective co-ordination is required between justice agencies and other key services, particularly health, education and housing services.”

The report stated that sometimes police respond to an incident where an individual is exhibiting behaviour suggestive of mental health problems, to the extent that they are perceived to be a risk to themselves or others.

Such events frequently do not involve a criminal offence.

The expectation of those reporting the incident is that police will be able to manage and resolve the situation, the audit office said.

It stated: “Typically, the outcome is that officers either detain the person and bring them for appropriate medical attention or convince them to seek attention voluntarily.

“The recorded number of such incidents has steadily increased from 9,000 in 2013 to over 20,000 per year.”

The audit office said: “These calls can impose significant operational demands upon the PSNI, often taking up to half an hour to resolve, imposing greater demands on the call management system.

“Responding officers can often be involved for between 18 and 30 hours, reducing the PSNI’s operational capacity for that duration.”

Each year officers arrest more than 20,000 people for interview.

They are assessed to consider whether their safety may be under threat while in custody.

Two-thirds of those detained are identified as having a mental health or potential mental health issue.

When the PSNI interviews someone identified as mentally vulnerable, that person is provided with an appropriate adult, who gives support to the individual in custody and while being interviewed.

Mr Donnelly’s recommendations include stronger cross-departmental leadership and better recording of mental health issues.