Policing 2026 - A Healthier Scotland


As we continue to promote our ten year improvement plan Policing 2026, today we look at the theme of A Healthier Scotland, focussing on the subject of mental health in the community and the work Police Scotland are doing in this area.

At present, one in four people suffer from a mental health issue in any given year. As a result, a proportion come to the attention of the Police for various reasons, and the most common marker on the police vulnerable persons’ database is mental health. As a result of attending various types of incidents last year officers recorded around fifty-seven thousand mental health entries on the database, and it’s estimated that by 2026, around 15-20% of police time will be consumed by those with mental health or vulnerability issues at time of crisis.

How it used to be

Since the 1980s public policy in relation to the care and treatment of Mental Health has focused on “Care in the Community” rather than in Mental Health Hospitals, and management of Mental Health incidents fell increasingly to the police. Often the police response in dealing with such incidents was arrest for a “suicidal breach of the peace” and detention in police custody.

There was also considerable disparity in the contact and use of local authority Mental Health Officers when dealing with persons in their own homes, particularly out of hours, and mental health and suicide prevention training was only delivered to probationer training at the Scottish Police College.

Prior to the formation of Police Scotland in April 2013, the various police forces had developed their own processes and practises to comply with legislation and the changing position of using common law powers and charges of Breach of the Peace to prevent distressed persons from completing suicide.

Police talking to two girls

What’s changed?

When Police Scotland came into being in 2013, we recognised the opportunity to develop a comprehensive national document aimed to help officers and staff improve our operational response to those in mental health crisis or distress. But policies and procedures are not enough to embed good practice into day to day operational business. Therefore, we worked in collaboration with NHS Health Scotland to design and develop training products and improve our operational response, but more importantly bring about a better quality of service to people in distress / crisis.

Often the police are the first to respond to urgent situations involving people in distress, and have to make quick decisions to assess the situation as well as the needs of the individuals involved, ensuring their safety and that of the general public.

We spent the best part of 3 years developing our training products, where there is a real emphasis in relation to providing an empathetic and compassionate response. The Safer Communities Department, in conjunction with NHS partners, developed a suite of training products with the overall aim of equipping officers who often have a crucial role in supporting and protecting people in mental health crisis.

By working effectively with mental health professionals, frontline officers are making more informed decisions regarding vulnerable individuals and providing them with the support they require, resulting in services being vastly improved across the country at no cost to Police Scotland.

By May 2017, around seventeen and a half thousand officers will have been trained. 

blue bar

Policing in Scotland has gone through significant transition; it is proudly one of the oldest public services in the world. Now the service must transform to realise and release the full benefits of being a single organisation. Local policing will remain at the heart of what we do, supported by a wide range of specialist capabilities.

Chief Constable, February 2017

blue bar

Community Triage

The aim of Community Triage is to improve our response and service to people within our communities who find themselves in distress or experiencing mental health difficulties. Since 2014, various Community Triage models have been developed across Scotland, tailored around what services are available within each area. Police have access to out of hours telephone advice from Community Psychiatric Nurses, in most areas, to provide professional support to both police officers and those persons in distress. In some areas, police can request the attendance of a Community Psychiatric Nurses at a person’s home address, if deemed necessary; to carry out face-to-face assessments and assist with any other intervention needed to keep that person safe overnight.

Suicide Prevention Guidance

Police Scotland has a crucial role to play in reducing and preventing suicide, and Safer Communities have developed Suicide Prevention Guidance which supports the Mental Health Crisis and Suicide Intervention Training. Raising awareness amongst police officers and police staff while tackling stigma around suicide and encouraging a ‘people centred approach’ can save lives, and the training allows officers and staff to recognise signs of potential vulnerability arising from a persons condition so that officers can respond confidently.

What else will change?

As part of our commitment to the Policing 2026 strategy, we will work with others to improve health and wellbeing in justice settings, including mental health, suicide prevention and addiction. In doing so we will embrace a decision making model based on threat, risk and harm that will ensure our activities are prioritised and carry maximum effect both an individual and community level.

How will we make the change happen?

Our focus for the future is to prioritise prevention, better matching resources to demand, threat, harm and risk. Through empowerment of diverse communities, we will direct the public to our services through the most effective channels, through which we will recognise vulnerable situations and reduce the likelihood of members of the public becoming victims of crime.

Police Scotland encourage as many people to get involved in the conversation and you can do that by visiting our Policing 2026 consultation.

Read the full draft Policing 2026 Strategy.