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Autism training forms part of police focus on mental health

A drive to train police officers about mental health issues has helped to bring about a 72 per cent fall in the number of people being taken into custody by Thames Valley Police under the Mental Health Act over the past 12 months.

The force, which covers Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, revised its policies on mental health last year.

All front-line officers and new recruits now receive specialised training to help them know what to do when they come into contact with people having a mental health crisis or whose behaviour is challenging, with outside organisations involved in the project.

Autism Berkshire is among the bodies providing advice and training to the police force, with officers taking part in courses about autism, covering sensory issues, behaviour and communication with people on the autism spectrum and highlighting the role of the Berkshire Autism Alert Card, as part of our programme of bespoke training for professionals working in various sectors.

In an announcement timed to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from May 16-22, the force said that from May 5 last year to May 4 this year, only 24 people were taken into custody out of 1,095 people officers had detained using powers in the Mental Health Act.

Thames Valley Police Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Ross, who is the mental health lead for the force, said: “I am very encouraged by these figures. We recognised that putting people who have been detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act into police custody was not in most cases appropriate.

“People need to be in supportive surroundings where they are able to receive the specialist help they need.”

Thames Valley Police operates what it calls street triage schemes in several of its local policing ares, including Reading, Bracknell & Wokingham and West Berkshire, where officers work alongside mental health professionals to seek alternatives to placing people into custody when they are suffering a mental health crisis.

Click here to read about Thames Valley Police’s mental health strategy and click here to read the announcement about the reduction in the use of police custody in cases involving mental health.