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COMMENT: Suicidal man deemed a ‘public nuisance’ by police.

“He is costing the police lot of time and money,” said Inspector Adrian Leisk.
“When he is down from the bridge, he will be dealt with under a public nuisance offence.”
My blood is boiling after reading this article on a local Devon news website. Is this really the public facing attitude of a senior police officer? A man who is clearly desperate enough to have attempted suicide on several occasions simply being labelled as a money and time waster, a public nuisance who will be arrested once they have talked him down?

There are no words that can describe how appalled I am.  Is there no one in a position of authority, the so-called protectors of our society, who will help this person? I am disgusted and furious that this poor man is simply being lambasted for being so desperate. Perhaps they are ignorant enough to think he wants to feel that desperate, that alone and that hopeless and that it’s his choice. Perhaps he does want to die, and perhaps, just perhaps, labelling him as a public nuisance who needs arresting like a criminal is reinforcing his own beliefs about his own worthlessness?

I don’t want to presume for a minute that I know what is going on for that poor man, but I bet my last penny that he already feels like a nuisance, a burden to society, or he wouldn’t have attempted suicide so many times in the first place. I wonder how the police officer (and others who have commented similar sentiments since) would feel should the worst happen and this man actually complete suicide?

I came across the link via my Twitter feed @clarewhitby, and discussed the issues with the owner of a blog about mental health issues in policing (http://mentalhealthcop.wordpress.com/).  Whilst my point revolved around the problem with labelling someone who is already desperate as a nuisance (and by definition of the police interpretation, committing a criminal offence), his point focused more around whether the legal system needed to come into play to ensure that future disturbances to the public did not continue.  I couldn’t agree more in the need to prevent future occurrences, but I am coming from a point of compassion first and foremost for the man at the centre of the story. Then and only then will the ‘problem’, as they see it, go away.

This news story really does demonstrate how far there is to go in changing attitudes towards mental health sufferers and suicidal people.  I thought we were breaking through and getting the message across, but reading this makes me realise just how far we still have to go.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article or in the comments below, are not those held by CALM or its Trustees unless stated, and liability cannot be accepted for such comments. We encourage friendly and constructive debate, but please don't share personal contact details when commenting and exercise caution when considering any advice offered by others. We don’t allow abusive, offensive or inappropriate comments or comments that could be interpreted as libellous, defamatory or commercial and we will remove these without warning as and when we find them.

8 Responses to this article

  1. I think this is appalling, the gentleman obviously needs help! the police have a duty of care and should help this chap, not tell him he is a nuisance. Discussing… I am appalled!

    Michele 15th August 2013 at 6:31 pm
  2. I hope this harsh sounding message from the police highlights the gaping chasm in service provision for mentally Ill people that the police are expected to fill with their limited range of tools.
    Let’s see the professionals with the real skills to help getting out there in the middle of the night to support the police to help distressed people line this.

    Steve 15th August 2013 at 6:31 pm
  3. This message from the police shows the ignorance of people who’ve never bothered to learn about mental health issues. For the young man to be in this situation just shows his desperation. This needed the right person to deal with this, not an official who’s only interest was cost. My youngest grandson took his own life 3 years next month, so I know how black the thoughts of the young man must have been. All the time there is this attitude to mental health issues by the people in charge, there’s no chance of the man on the beat coming anywhere near being any help.

    Mave 15th August 2013 at 11:21 pm
  4. Thanks for your comments Michele, Steve and Mave. I have found the Inspector involved on Twitter and have sent him a copy of my article. It seems he is currently an Acting Chief Inspector which makes it even worse that he should ‘represent’ the public face of the police in this way. Will be interesting to see if he responds.

    Clare Whitby 19th August 2013 at 8:08 pm
  5. To those who have posted on here, having lost loved ones, I can only begin to imagine the impact of your loss. Dealing with desperate people without any feeling of hope is an increasingly common experience for emergency responders. Please be assured that we will deal with such calls for services in an empathetic and professional manner. This case is something entirely difficult. Attention seeking behaviour on over a dozen occasions where the individual has no intention whatsoever of harming himself, including ‘staging’ cliff falls, does prevent us from dealing with other critical matters, and could cost lives. I will always judge every call for service on its own merits, and have worked tirelessly through the night to locate vulnerable ‘high risk’ missing people, to bring them home to their families. I dealt first hand with the tragic incident at Haytor on Dartmoor recently, an incident which affected so many in the local community. We would never intentionally criminalise anyone who required clinical support. I understand the strength of feeling, but there is much more to this case than the brief reports in the media. We have held extensive strategy meetings with partner agencies and have received professional clinical advice before taking this action, I hope this clarifies why I have made the attributed comments in relation to the article.

    Adrian Leisk

    Adrian Leisk 19th August 2013 at 11:16 pm
  6. Insp LEISK’s comment above shows the point I was making in the blog I wrote — you can almost always guarantee that the police will lean to diversionary, health systems for people in distress: research shows that time and time again. When a counter-intuitive, criminalising response is taken, it is almost always because those diversionary health and social care mechanisms have been tried (probably more than once) and failed, for whatever complex reasons.

    No police officer wants to criminalise a vulnerable person, but the point I have made on my blog is that the criminal justice system can afford an opportunity to put any required care within a system of obligation and constraint (mental health treatment requirements) AND / OR it can offer, as it does for all of us, a set of incentives not to repeat behaviours which have significant impacts upon the wider community. As with Adrian’s case, above – I have NEVER, ever known this occur without clinical assessment and input.

    Michael Brown (author - mentalhealthcop blog) 3rd September 2013 at 7:40 am
  7. In response to Adrian Leisk, if someone is “attention seeking”, it’s a cry for help and a sign this man is in deep need of it. People only go to extreme lengths, when they ask for help and they are pushed away. Looks like some police don’t realise how hard help is to access.It’s a shame the police and health care system fail to see this. Perhaps he needs to be sectioned.

    Think Twice, Act Once 4th September 2013 at 1:42 am
  8. In my home town a woman stopped all trafiic for miles by standing on a bridge. No one thought about the woman and the fact she needed help but the inconvinience it caused everyone. I was caught up in the jams. My thoughts are with her.

    Sean 10th September 2013 at 4:07 pm

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