Sussex Police welcomes the Independent Police Complaints Commission's investigation into Sussex Police's treatment of an 11-year-old girl.
Officers came into contact with the girl, who suffers from a genetic condition with symptoms similar to autism, in 2012 when on five occasions she was physically restrained and on four of these she was also arrested and taken into custody.
Police arrested the girl four times in 2012: under the Mental Health Act on 9 February; for assault on 16 February; for a public order offence on 29 February and for criminal damage 2 March. The IPCC investigated the circumstances of these arrests.
Temporary Deputy Chief Constable Robin Smith said: "We take our responsibility for any use of force very seriously particularly when it involves young people or those who are vulnerable.
"We welcome the IPCC's scrutiny and during its investigation the Force has adopted many schemes to support vulnerable people and those with mental illness, learning disabilities and substance misuse issues. Aspects of our approach are being held as good practice nationally and we will respond to any new learning identified in the IPCC’s report.
"A lot has been achieved to support people who are vulnerable, however we cannot be complacent and will continue to work with partners to ensure that the right decisions are made in assessing and supporting those who need it.
“As a direct result of the investigation into this case, personal safety and first aid training, which all officers have to undertake, has been updated. This means officers have learned communication skills to help them be more effective when helping people with mental illness. In addition, all officers have refreshed their knowledge in the use of spit guards.
“As a chief officer I have a duty to protect officers and the public when we are called on for help, whether the threat comes from a child or someone who is unwell. This is very often the case and it was on several occasions that the girl’s mother called for our help. The application of any type of restraint is considered only when the level of resistance causes concern for the safety of the detained person, the officer and other members of the public.”
Improvements made as a result of learning in this case:
Those with suspected mental illness, learning difficulties and substance misuse issues can expect the following:
• They will have their needs better understood by police officers, PCSOs, Specials and staff who have been trained to identify signs and symptoms of mental ill-health and how to adapt their communication style to assist them in managing a situation.
• If under 18 years of age, they can expect officers who are called to deal with them to call the CAMH service (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) to obtain advice on a course of action that may prevent detention under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. The service is provided by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
• If detained under s136 mental health Act 1983 and under the age of 18 years, they will not be taken to any police cells in West Sussex, East Sussex or Brighton and Hove unless there are the most exceptional circumstances present.
• A triage team, dedicated officer and nurse, to respond to calls and ensure an appropriate response to their needs. The Street Triage Project provides assessment, immediate support and advice to people in crisis, fewer detentions under Section 136, and timely access to primary and secondary care. The triage team will also make referrals to community voluntary sector organisations when appropriate. Street Triaige operates widely across West Sussex and East Sussex during core hours. In Brighton and Hove officers work closely with the Mental Health Rapid Response Service who provide assistance and advice to officers who are dealing with someone in mental health crisis. The service also undertakes assessments and admissions where necessary into hospital.
• If they have been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence they are now assessed by a specialist Police Court Liaison and Diversion Service (PCLDS) practitioner in each of the six custody suites seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. The practitioner will talk with the person, giving priority to those under 18, and offer advice to custody officers and staff about the most appropriate way of managing the detainee and highlighting care needs and vulnerabilities. The practitioners have the NHS patient record computer system installed in custody suites, and have close working links with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and the Youth Offending Team. An extension of the service has included a speech and language therapist to the Youth Offending team.
• They will have their needs considered in Magistrates Courts. Information gathered by the PCLDS practitioner may, where the person provides their informed consent, be provided to the judiciary within criminal justice partner organisations to inform charging and sentencing decisions including referral route. The Police Courts Liaison and Diversion Service has been held as national good practice.
Commenting on the IPCC recommendations into the treatment of Child H, Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said:
“The experience of victims is paramount when I hold Sussex Police to account for the service they deliver to the public.
“Undoubtedly, this was a challenging case but the treatment of this 11 year old was totally unacceptable. However, I welcome the fact that since the incident with Child H was reported, Sussex Police acted swiftly and positively to quickly improve the training and processes that support vulnerable people and those with mental illness, learning disabilities and substance misuse issues.
“It’s also promising that aspects of Sussex Police’s new protocols are being recognised as good practice nationally and I will continue to monitor their work to ensure it provides the best possible service to all vulnerable groups.”