When PC Del Allerton-Baldwin walks the beat, his patch is the mental health community of Cornwall – those who are ill and the professionals who treat and care for them.
Rather than being centred on a geographical area like his fellow neighbourhood beat managers, Del’s unique job is dedicated to keeping people who are mentally ill out of the criminal justice system whenever possible.
“Should an individual who has a mental disorder and is in crisis be arrested and put in a police cell? No – it is so, so wrong,” PC Del Allerton-Baldwin said.
The success of his pioneering work with patients, mental health staff and police officers over the past two years has prompted a groundbreaking collaboration. Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which delivers mental health services in the county, and Devon and Cornwall Police, now co-fund his unique job.
He is regularly to be found on mental health wards at Bodmin Hospital and Longreach House at Camborne and Redruth Hospital.
“When I joined the police, all I wanted to do was nick villains,” he said. “Now mental health has become core police business – between 20 and 40 per cent of all police incidents now involve some kind of mental disorder.”
In his days as a conventional neighbourhood beat manager in Bodmin, the PC was regularly called out to incidents of alleged assault by those in mental health crisis on other patients or staff on the mental health wards at the town’s community hospital.
“Mental health appeared to be in the ‘too difficult’,” box he said. “As police officers we used to butt heads all the time with community health trust staff. Conceptions of each other were based on myth and folklore. I now have a foot in both camps and a much clearer insight. My success is based around practical working relationships.”
PC Allerton-Baldwin’s job evolved at a time of police budget cuts. He embarked on a project to draw up a criminality flow chart, signposting police and health trust staff through scenarios of potentially criminal behaviour on mental health wards towards appropriate action. It is now in every police station in Cornwall and on each mental health unit for use on the frontline.
“It’s a case of a thick policy document that no one is going to read versus a simple colour-coded chart on the wall,” Del added, who promotes clear and open communication between police officers and mental health staff and also provides training on current mental health legislation.
His research included spending time on the wards in Bodmin talking to patients, their families and trust staff, to gain a comprehensive perspective.
“I had access to ward staff and doctors who answered a lot of my stupid questions,” he admits. “We work together now. It is important there is a distinction between what I do and what they do. I am good at legal things, they are good at clinical things.
“A large proportion of what I do is sit at a desk on the ward in uniform and patients can come and talk to me,” he said. “These are people who only usually see a policeman, in a crisis. My time invested there prevents prosecutions and incarcerations.
“We have had several success stories with patients who were almost routinely offending, threatening patients and staff and generally being disruptive. I’m able to say to them: ‘Carry on like this and you are going to be arrested’.
Not long ago 500 people a year used to go in the police cells in the county. Now 250 are taken to Longreach House as their place of safety. In the past year only three went into police custody.
Presently working out of Wadebridge police station, PC Allerton-Baldwin will soon have a laptop and a permanent base at Bodmin Hospital where he can continue his hands-on work while also contributing to police policies, not only throughout Cornwall, Devon and into Dorset, but setting national precedents too.
Originally reported at CornwallLive.com