6 Dec 2018

Police shouldn't be a proxy for mental health workers - Stuart Nash

11:03 am on 6 December 2018

Police recruits will not be given additional mental health training under the police minister's watch because he doesn't want them to become a substitute for skilled professionals.

Police generic

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Mental health callouts have been steadily increasing since 2006 but Labour did not proceed with a pilot programme planned under the previous government in which mental health workers would attend crisis calls along with police and ambulance staff.

The mental health inquiry released this week states clearly that the police need more training but Stuart Nash did not want police left picking up the pieces.

The police attend an average of 104 mental health callouts every 24 hours - something the police advised Mr Nash would only increase.

But Mr Nash said upping the training for police recruits was not the answer though because then police would become the substitute for skilled professionals.

"We do want them to be able to deal with these complex situations but we don't want them to be a proxy for mental health workers.''

Mr Nash said policing worked best when it was done in partnership with groups like district health boards and trauma nurses.

Police Minister Stuart Nash.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the mental health crisis was not a police problem.

Mr Cahill said the biggest tragedy was when police officers ended up attending the suicide of someone with mental health issues who they had tried to help on multiple occasions.

"When police are involved things have already reached that crisis point and that's actually a failure of mental health.

"These people need the support earlier so they don't have to interact with police."

Mental health inquiry calls for more police training

But a mental health and addiction inquiry report released on Tuesday said there were "loud and clear calls" for more training across a number of agencies, including police.

One of the recommendations in the report, to reform the mental health act, specifically called for a national discussion that included police to "reconsider beliefs, evidence and attitudes about mental health and risk''.

A spokesperson for the police said officers had a role to play in mental health as they provided "24/7 emergency in-person response to calls for service''.

Recruits receive a total of eight hours dedicated mental health training during their 16-week college course.

This includes a session where people with experience of mental distress speak with the recruits, and a two-hour interactive session delivered by mental health service users.

There is two hours training on the Mental Health Act legislation and police policy. The practical application of legislation and policy is covered through a further two hours of case studies and two hours of experiential scenario-based learning.

Also, in the five weeks immediately after graduation, officers complete three dedicated mental health learning modules.

Canning pilot scheme 'incomprehensible'

National's police spokesperson Chris Bishop said Mr Nash's response was not good enough in light of the advice from the mental health inquiry.

"Well I just find it incomprehensible to be honest. If there's one thing we're going to get out of the mental health inquiry, it's that all of government from health to police to all the services that government provides, we need to get better at dealing with mental health.''

Mr Bishop is disappointed the government canned the $8 million pilot scheme that would have mental health workers attend crisis calls with police and ambulance staff, set up under the National-led government.

The coalition government is on a drive to recruit and additional 1800 police.

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