Mental health policing teams pay dividends

A WORLD-FIRST trial where mental health workers accompany Perth police has been a success, according to a report.

The initiative freed up officers’ time by reducing the number of people requiring hospital transports.

Mobile co-response teams comprising a senior mental health clinician and two specially trained police officers were deployed last December and currently cover half of the Perth metropolitan area.

“When the teams are engaged there has been an 80 per cent reduction in police officers transporting mentally ill patients to hospital, with the clinicians instead treating them in the community,” police minister Liza Harvey said.

Core duties

“This allows police officers to return to their core duties of investigating and responding to crime and antisocial behaviour in the community.”

The trial was developed by WA Police, the Mental Health Commission and the Department of Health and is expected to cost $6.5 million over two years.

WA Association for Mental Health CEO Rod Astbury says the results are encouraging.

“From the perspective of our members, who are family members and those with mental illnesses themselves, what they’re not having to experience is what normally happens around a very traumatic event. So they’re avoiding something that’s personally distressing and upsetting for the family, but also stigmatising as these events usually occur in public spaces.”

Mr Astbury says due to WA’s strict mandatory detention laws for assaulting a police officer, families are often afraid to call for help.

“Overwhelmingly the way [police officers] approach these situations has been astoundingly sensitive,” says Astbury.

“However because of mandatory sentencing, and the highly damaging results of assaulting a police officer — even when the person is mentally distressed at the time families rarely want to get police involved.”

Mental health clinicians have also been placed at the police operations centre and Perth watch house where they can assess people and get them care without needing police.

“Because there are people with experience at the call centre these situation can be  solved without police even having to attend. [This] prevents a situation developing — and if the person is already known to the mental health system they can be quickly matched with the right service,” Mr Astbury says.

by SOPHIE MOORE

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