Uncategorized — 24 February 2014

All NSW police on the beat will undergo  training in  mental health   intervention  as  the latest figures show  a rise of 15 per cent in the number  of police incidents involving mentally ill people last year.

More than 90 per cent of frontline officers had never done  mental health  training,  despite being called out to suicides, threats of self-harm and  violent incidents  of  so-called ”death by cop”.

In 2013, NSW Police responded to 43,830 mental health related incidents, up  from 38,524 in 2012. The number of incidents could  reach  50,000  this year,  police say.

The introduction of a one-day training course comes a week after  mentally  ill Greg Anderson killed  his  son, Luke Batty, 11,  in Victoria.bigstock_Police_57729

From Monday, two  teams will begin  teaching a mental health intervention  course, with the aim of  reaching every officer in NSW.

NSW Police spokesman for mental health, Superintendent David Donohue, said  Luke’s  tragic death showed how important it is for police to better understand  mental health.

”That father suffered mental illness. It rang true to what we are trying to  get to;  not saying that training would change the outcome but that death by cop  is a reality and it’s becoming more prevalent in the US. How do you manage  that?”

Superintendent Donohue said he was in the  witness box during an inquest into  a fatal police shooting when he came to the realisation  that all officers  needed training.

”It’s [mental health incidents] the most prevalent I’ve seen in 25 years.  Not a shift goes by where  police don’t deal with something that is mental  health related.”

Two coroners had asked him why there was not training for every policeman and  he realised there was a major gap.

For the past four years, Superintendent Donohue encouraged the commander of  the mental health intervention team, Inspector Joel Murchie, to develop the  course, with the help of NSW Health.

Inspector Murchie said  four officers and two mental health nurses would   train 13,500 officers in the next three years. Once the roving training  is  completed,  the program will switch to the NSW Police Academy in  Goulburn, so  all  recruits are trained.

Superintendent Donohue said the course would teach officers about common  mental illnesses and show them ways to identify certain conditions ”because  sometimes we don’t know if [a person] is drug-affected or, in some instances,   the person might be suffering from a brain injury”, he said.

Coronial findings in cases in which  police have killed mentally ill people   would be discussed and officers would have the chance to participate in mock  scenarios.

Inspector Murchie said the rising number of mental health related incidents  was a concern but said there many reasons for it.

Better police awareness  meant officers were more likely  to ”tag” jobs as  mental health related.

The increased prevalence of illicit drug use and the stresses of modern life  were also likely to increase the number of incidents, he said.

NSW Police’s  mental health intervention team was made a permanent unit  in  2009.

This article first appeared on ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ on 24 February 2014.


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