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The importance of Independent Custody Visitors

As I write, I am honoured to have been nominated for an MBE by Her Majesty, for services to Mental Health Awareness and Support.

This Honour cannot be accepted, or spoken about, without thinking of Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) and my team at the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Dorset.

As I said in my blog this week to the Independent Custody Visitors (ICVs) – they have all stepped up to the plate, and more- protecting people’s rights and dignities, in incredibly difficult circumstances. I thank them all and the team at the Organisation I Chair, the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) Ashley, Sherry and Stacey.

In relation to my role as Police and Crime CC As the PCC for Dorset, leading nationally for Custody and Mental Health issues, I travelled a seven-year journey to improve outcomes for people detained by the police who were experiencing a mental health crisis for their own safety.

Many of you will know my two sayings – “If you break your arm, you should go to A&E, if you break your mind, you should go to mental health professionals“.

And my other saying – “People in mental health crisis deserve the right treatment at the right time, in the right place“. That place was never going to be a police cell.

Sadly, back in 2012/13, over 9,000 people in England and Wales ended up in custody suites, being visited by volunteers, instead of being in a health setting.

There were numerous reasons for this, and between us all, we changed things for the better. We worked together to tighten the Mental Health Act so that police cells are no longer deemed as an intuitive place of safety for people experiencing a mental health crisis.  This year, less than 200 people were taken to police stations for being in crisis, a massive drop that reflects a positive step-change in how the police treat those with poor mental health.

Throughout this journey our ICVs, lobbied me for change and encouraged me to take the matter to the Government. I must single out the Rt Hon Theresa May, as Home Secretary, for her enormous energy in this space, and I must thank all my PCC colleagues, who signed a letter to the Government in 2013 saying: “enough is enough”.

Locally and nationally, things have improved in other ways, with new Retreats, Community Hubs, and a 24 hr Crisis Line in Dorset, and nationally, a standard health approach to people now entering custody, where detainees are assessed for their physical and mental health on arrival.

There is much to be proud of, and I am humbled by this recognition, but I am also humbled by all of you, constantly out there, checking, questioning, and examining policing as they undertake essential custody work, as well as being a listening ear for detainees.

Let’s celebrate together, we journeyed together, and let’s hope this year sees a better, safer place for all of us.

Thanks for all that you do!