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Viewpoint: a furious but justifiable response to a Tweet?

Chris Hobbs reviews the thinking behind a tweet from the IOPC which at first glance smacked of "ambulance chasing".

Viewpoint: a furious but justifiable response to a Tweet?

Date - 11th May 2022
By - Chris Hobbs
5 Comments 5 Comments}

This tweet brought back memories from the time of the Covid lockdown when sections of the media openly sought examples of ‘over-zealous’ policing in relation to the enforcement of Covid regulations.

On this occasion, the Independent Officer for Police Conduct (IOPC) decided that its contribution to Mental Health Awareness Week was to invite complaints from those members of the public who had encountered police whilst suffering a mental health crisis.

At first glance, this could simply be interpreted as a crude attempt at ‘touting for business’ as exemplified by ‘ambulance chasing’ firms of solicitors. Another interpretation would be that, as the IOPC had already accused the Met in particular and other forces in general of racism, misogyny, and homophobia, this was simply a crude attempt to point the finger at additional ‘shortcomings’ of the country’s police service. 

In fact, the tweet provoked a twitter storm as serving and retired officers together with those who support police, reacted with fury. The offending tweet was deleted the following morning which was followed by an unconvincing explanation that this was linked to their ‘know your rights’ campaign designed, it would seem, to encourage complaints against police.

Some, when responding to the contentious tweet, made the point that the mental health of officers under investigation could well be impacted by the inordinate length of time taken by the IOPC in completing those investigations. Even a relatively simple investigation involving the well- publicised stop and search of two black athletes took 21 months to complete before the decision that the TSG officers involved would face gross misconduct proceedings and possible dismissal.

More recently, an officer under investigation for an incident during crowd disorder at a football match sadly took his own life.

Pressures on policing

The tweet also indicated a total lack of understanding in relation to the pressure placed on the police service who have to deal with those facing a mental health crisis. Serving officers were quick to point out that they were not ‘mental health professionals’ and that their training was often computerised via the loathed NCALT system. The implication in the IOPC tweet was that the training is comprehensive when clearly it is not.

Yet, in London alone, the Met reportedly receive around 40,000 mental health related calls a year. Huge swathes of police time are taken up with those suffering from mental health issues, some of which are complex, demanding and dangerous. Even the Guardian expressed some sympathy in an article from October 2020. It pointed out that Humberside police had to deal with a 177% increase in mental health calls over a five- year period; Wiltshire and Lancashire saw increases of 248% and 243% respectively.

A friend of mine is a NHS mental health nurse with more than 20-years-experience and acts a point of contact for Met officers dealing with those suffering a mental health crisis. She has nothing but praise for the ‘fantastic, kind, professional officers’ who have to deal with situations which are frequently extremely demanding and can continue for hours or even days as there is normally no MH team to assist and no beds available.

Of little interest to the media or, I suspect, to both the IOPC and the police inspectorate, is the number of lives saved by officers of those individuals who are suicidal and the number of lives changed by police interventions. Whilst there is clearly a lack of mental health training, officers compensate by using their communication skills together with empathy, sympathy and common sense.

Occasionally, very occasionally an incident to which police are called will go badly wrong. Each death is tragic but mercifully rare and lessons will be learnt but such tragedies need to be seen against the huge number of incidents to which police are called. Again, according to the Guardian, a response from just over half the forces in England and Wales, showed that in 2019 police were called to a total of 301,144 incidents involving mental health.

Confidence

Although the tweet was deleted, it can still be seen on social media and if the IOPC ever had any intention of rebuilding the confidence of front line officers in its investigations, this will surely be another blow to those aspirations.

In fairness to the IOPC, it has some decent investigators and there are investigations which result in the officer or officers being largely exonerated, although most do come with caveats such as training needs.

Nevertheless, the IOPC’s unremitting criticisms of police which imply that the policing apple is rotten to the core, does little to encourage confidence. Its Charing Cross police station report which suggested that a toxic culture prevailed amongst the hundreds of officers who work there, displayed no methodology as to how they arrived at that conclusion. It seems we are simply expected to take them at their word and superimpose the appalling actions of a small number of officers upon all..

Whether the IOPC likes it or not, it’s actions mean that it is held in contempt by most of those involved in policing and its attempt at reform which accompanied its change of name from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) to the IOPC has been a failure.

It shows no sympathy, empathy or compassion for police officers struggling to cope with unprecedented demand at the ‘sharp end’ of policing. It shows little concern for the mental health issues that these demands generate as illustrated by their above-mentioned contentious tweet.

At least, within policing itself, there is a growing realisation that mental health is now an important part of the police welfare equation.

That realisation appears, at present, to be an alien concept as far as the IOPC are concerned.

Chris Hobbs is a former Met Special Branch officer 

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Comments

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Ian - Tue, 24 May 2022

Please could someone tweet advice regarding who to complain to in the event that the IOPC are not felt to be doing all they should? In fairness, the most recent police recruitment and retention data shows that they are doing a great job of assisting in discouraging new joiners and weeding people out of the Service.