Thursday, March 18, 1999 Published at 13:32 GMT
Police on mental health frontline
Police are on the frontline for dealing with the mentally ill
New measures to ensure the mentally ill take their medication could mean a big increase in the role police play in community care, say police and mental health workers.
The City of London police and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF) are meeting on Thursday to raise awareness among police officers of mental health issues.
Both believe the proposed introduction of community treatment orders for the mentally ill who are released from hospital will increase police work with vulnerable patients.
A spokesman for the NSF said: "Because of failings in the community care system, police have been thrust into the frontline.
"They are the only service which can be relied upon to get to a scene within minutes and can be called out 24 hours a day.
"With the community treatment orders, police may be involved more closely so it is very important for us to get the relationship right."
He added that police may be required to escort people to clinics if they fail to take their drugs, as required by the new orders.
Sergeant Tim Parsons of the City of London Police agreed that the orders were likely to increase police work with the mentally ill.
He said this had been rising ever since the introduction of community care legislation.
Sgt Parsons said this would help show the extent of police work with the mentally ill as well as improving ways of dealing with vulnerable people.
He added that police training in the past had concentrated on mental health legislation and was now moving towards the practicalities of dealing with the mentally ill.
The NSF wants more court diversion schemes to be set up around the country to divert the mentally ill out of the criminal justice system and into social services.
The police agree that prison is not the best place to deal with the mentally ill.
Sir Paul Condon, head of the Metropolitan Police, has said he is increasingly concerned that police officers are being expected to do the job of mental health workers.
Senior officers are looking at how the police should deal with vulnerable people like the mentally ill.
This could include the setting-up of response units of police and health workers to be sent out to calls which involve mentally ill people.
Thursday's conference is part of ongoing efforts by mental health charities and the police to improve the way officers treat the mentally ill.
Over the last few years, the NSF has been holding conferences with police units around the country, including the British Transport police, the Metropolitan police and Greater Manchester police.
It has also held meetings with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
A spokesman said the response from police had been good.