Lisa Townsend Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner

Confusing debate on police attending mental health calls


An ex-police officer has responded to Surrey Police and Crime Commissioner’s calls for coppers to attend fewer mental health call outs – saying the first murder he attended was initally a non-critical mental health call.

Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Lisa Townsend, recently called for officers to stop attending every mental health call out, saying officers are being taken off the front line. She has called for the “Right Care, Right Person” model to be introduced, following the Metropolitan Police also saying from August they will no longer attend mental health call outs where there is not a threat to life.

Councillor Richard Smith, a Tandridge District Councillor, said he had been a police officer for 30 years and that he was in agreement with Mrs Townsend’s comments. (sic)

Cllr Smith  (Residents’ Alliance, Burstow, Horne & Outwood) spoke at the annual meeting of Surrey County Council’s Police and Crime Panel on Thursday (June 29). He said: “Probably the first murder I went to was a non-critical [mental health] call to a person who then decided to stab the nurse to death with a carving knife out of the kitchen. I feel that’s where we are going to come unstuck when it comes to removing police from mental health calls.”

Mrs Townsend responded that was “absolutely the right place for police to be” and there would always be a role for police to play in such cases. But she said police officers should not be attending where there was a role for other agencies, such as adult social care or the NHS, to follow up.

Earlier in the meeting she had pointed to additional money given to the NHS for mental health support, which police don’t get. But she was clear the police should not get additional money, in her opinion.

She said: “If somebody has broken their leg we would not expect them to be in the back of a police car. “If somebody is having a mental health crisis I do not want them in the back of a police car.”

Mrs Townsend said she’d had “difficult” conversations with NHS representatives about police officers not being able to attend all mental health calls.

She told the meeting the difference was: “I’m not walking into A&E in St Peter’s on a Friday night saying can we borrow a couple of nurses because we have got some burglaries that need solving in Woking?”

She said in February, officers spent 515 hours on incidents relating to mental health which was the highest number of hours ever recorded in a single month by Surrey Police.

Image: Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey Lisa Townsend. Surrey Live photographer Darren Pepe.

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