Victoria Police officers are facing more “life and death” situations than ever before, according to the head of the state’s police union — and there’s a clear way politicians can fix the underlying issue. B
Wayne Gatt, secretary of the Police Association Victoria, said changes to Victoria’s mental health system were needed and that it was “a situation that must change”.
The system needs to look at better ways mental health patients are transported to hospital, according to Mr Gatt.
“It just isn’t right to expect police and mental health patients to wait together on average 2.5 hours to hand over at hospitals, after being conveyed in the back of police vans like prisoners,” he said.
“Police and PSOs have long been the first response to mental health crises in an under-resourced health system.
“We do the best we can and we try to keep everyone safe, but we know we are not ‘street-corner psychologists’.
“We do not have any clinical training or experience and no amount of online training will transform police or PSOs into trained clinicians. We are there to protect the community, not to diagnose and treat a person suffering a mental health episode.”
Mr Gatt said his members were often forced to quell dangerous behaviour caused by those with psychosis and schizophrenia for community safety, but earlier intervention would be a better solution.
“Our members can and do try to influence outcomes in crisis situations, but they cannot wind back the clock to a time when a person might have been more receptive, more accepting or more capable of receiving care,” he said.nullnull
“The dual objectives of keeping people safe and helping the vulnerable quickly become incompatible, and situations can turn from stable and controlled to unconfined and dangerous in seconds. We accept it is going to happen, we just wish it wasn’t the case as often as it is.”
He said members reported “repeat examples” of jobs where they took mentally unwell people to health care only to find they had returned home shortly thereafter.
“On some occasions, be it hours or days later, (that) has escalated to a suicide, attempted suicide, a stabbing or a police shooting,” Mr Gatt said.
In a submission to Victoria’s mental health royal commission, the union calls for greater investment in collaborative clinical and police responses such as the crisis assessment and treatment teams — saying they are in short supply, employed on an ad hoc basis and only operate in certain locations.
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