Published 7 February 2018

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A prominent mental health campaigner who once threatened to jump from Waterloo Bridge has called on police officers to wear plain clothes when dealing with people in crisis.
Jonny Benjamin was speaking at a mental health conference hosted by the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott and Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable Alan Baldwin on 31 January.
Mr Benjamin nearly ended his life in London in 2008 but was talked out of doing so by passing stranger Neil Laybourn. However, he recalled that the arrival of uniformed officers in a marked police car to detain him at the bridge did little to calm his disposition.
Kent Police is now reviewing the way it responds to incidents of mental health crisis – but DCC Baldwin questioned whether the public should be calling for police attendance at all when no crime has taken place.
And National Police Chiefs’ Council mental health lead Chief Constable Mark Collins warned that, as representatives of The State, police forces risked “over-policing and under-caring” when it came to dealing with vulnerable people suffering a mental health crisis.
Other speakers at the Mental Health East Conference - attended by more than 100 delegates from across policing, fire, health and the criminal justice system – included Professor Tim Kendall, the NHS’ National Clinical Director for Mental Health; and Zoe Billingham from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
Prof Kendall insisted the NHS is aware of the adverse demand mental health is placing on policing but that simply providing more hospital beds to increase capacity was not the answer. Rather, he said, the solution lay with improving the speed at which beds are freed up.
Ms Billingham said that while it was good that almost all police forces in England and Wales were now employing some kind of triage service to better deal with incidents of mental health crisis, there is currently very little means of measuring how efficient and effective those initiatives are.
Speaking after the event, Kent’s PCC Mr Scott said:

‘The conference was a great opportunity for partners to get together to share ideas, support and best practice. Chief Constable Collins and I will be feeding some of what we’ve heard into the Prime Minister’s ongoing review of current mental health legislation, being led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely.
‘We recognise there will always be a requirement for the police to deal with mental health issues but police officers are not mental health professionals. What is important is that vulnerable people get the right care from the right person at the right time.’

Mr Scott leads on mental health issues for the national Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. DCC Baldwin is the East of England policing region’s lead on mental health. Together they co-chair a group which brings together partners from seven Mental Health Crisis Care Concordats in the East of England.