‘They were grown men with guns. I was in my PJs’: The crises where police aren’t wanted

Police should be relegated to back-up support for mental health workers or not respond at all to call-outs for severely mentally ill people in crisis, a major NSW inquiry has concluded.

But the recommendation fell short of demanding the reform be urgently implemented despite the deaths of more than 50 people during or as a result of police responding to mental health emergencies across NSW in the past five years, and strong support from mental health experts, patients, families and police.

The report from the upper house inquiry into community and outpatient mental healthcare on Tuesday recommended “NSW Police explore being activated as a secondary response to mental health emergencies only where required to support the safety of primary responders” with NSW Health.

In the five years to June 30, 2023, 52 mental health consumers were killed in NSW during or as a result of police responses to a mental health callout, government data shows.

Several more people have since been killed, including 47-year-old mother Krista Kach, who was Tasered and hit with bean bag rounds in Newcastle, and Jesse Deacon, 43, who was shot by police in Glebe in September last year.

The inquiry considered alternative models, including South Australia’s MH CORE model where triple zero calls are referred to a paramedic and mental health clinician who arrive by ambulance.

Sophie, who requested her surname be withheld, was 17 years old when a police officer escorting her to hospital grabbed her arm so tightly that she was left with bruising.

After overdosing on prescription medication, Sophie was taken to hospital in a police van.

“I remember having to crawl my way into the back … there were no seatbelts, nothing to hold on to. I don’t know how I stayed sitting up,” she said. “I felt like a criminal.”

Grace called a helpline, needing someone to talk to in her distress. The helpline worker instead triggered an emergency response – without ascertaining whether she was at risk of harming herself or others – and seven armed police officers arrived at her studio apartment door.

“These were grown men with guns,” Grace said. “I was wearing my pyjamas. I was alone.”

Grace described reaching for her law textbook to look up a section of the Mental Health Act. One of the police officers said something to the effect of:“That won’t help you. You have no rights in this situation.”

Defaulting to police was often a symptom of the broader crisis in NSW’s mental health system marred by chronic underfunding, staffing shortages, discrimination, overcrowding in emergency departments and a lack of co-ordination between services, the inquiry found.

[Ed: Male violence takes many forms, including institutionalised abuse].

Source: 12ft

One thought on “‘They were grown men with guns. I was in my PJs’: The crises where police aren’t wanted”

  1. Police should never attend without a trained mental Health person and if a woman a female. Often they don’t know the true circumstances even the persons name and seeming attack can be likely rather than wise careful action

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