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Dorset asked to improve mental health management in custody

HMICFRS has identified this area as a 'cause of concern' after carrying out an inspection of the force's custody facilities with the CQC in February.

The arrangements for providing support which helps frontline officers decide what to do during mental health incidents 'aren’t working well enough' in Dorset, HMICFRS has said.

Dorset Police has been asked to work with mental health services to improve this service, after the inspectorate assessed custody suites in Bournemouth, Weymouth and Poole earlier this year.

When considering whether to detain a person under s136 of the Mental Health Act, officers are meant to call a local mental health hospital or the mental health service through a 24/7 telephone helpline.

However, calls aren’t always answered quickly, meaning officers sometimes have to make decisions without any advice or knowledge of the person’s health records.

This means some people are detained when other more appropriate solutions could have been considered, and equally, detention - rather than arrest - was considered the best step in some of the cases examined by HMICFRS.

By contrast, the physical healthcare provided to detainees has gotten better since Mitie Care & Custody were awarded the contract in October 2022.

However, this improvement has come after initial teething problems in the first few months of that contract, when staff shortages adversely affected the service.

Alongside the recommendation made regarding detainees with mental ill health, HMICFRS also suggested 14 areas for improvement.

One of these centred around use of force, which was found to be proportionate to the risk in most of the 11 cases reviewed by HMICFRS.

However, restraint techniques weren't always deployed properly. The inspectorate referred five cases to Dorset Police for learning, all of which involved the use of techniques it felt could've injured the detainee.

HMICFRS has asked the force to make sure restraint techniques are deployed in a way that minimises the risk of injury, and to ensure custody officers direct and oversee incidents to manage them appropriately.

Detention reviews is another area where improvement is sought. While these are generally carried out well, HMICFRS did find some instances of non-compliance with PACE.

For example, some detainees were in custody for over six hours without having their detention reviewed, contrary to s40 PACE.

Moreover, HMICFRS observed two reviews of children where continued detention wasn’t authorised because the reviewing officer wasn’t satisfied the investigation was expeditious.

The children were released on bail, though only after a second review, meaning they had already been in custody for a significant time.

Dorset has been asked to improve its approach in this area by ensuring reviewing inspectors place more importance on assessing the progress of investigations.

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