I have written before about the advice that often comes from the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC.) Invariably they give advice that would be useful in an ideal world where resources are infinite. I have said before that we are not perfect and the people we deal with have high expectations. Occasionally we make mistakes and we should apologise when we do so. The sooner the better.
The IPCC look at complaints and whether it is about response, custody or investigation, invariably the advice is that we must do more. So some of our limited resources are moved around the board from one area to another until the next complaint when they get moved again.
This story caught my eye. A drunken woman with a number of issues rang the police to demand we attended to help her gain access to her sisters flat. She later rang again and during this call she said I will 'top myself' if the police did not attend. The operator missed that comment and that was a failing for which we should apologise. The article focuses on the missed comment but the advice from the IPCC made clear that the police should attend immediately any incident where someone has threatened to kill themselves.
What the IPCC decided was that the call was initially correctly graded as a 2. That means that we should attend within an hour. But as soon as the lady mentioned topping herself, it should have been graded 1 and we should have attended immediately. De facto, the police once again are responsible for killing this woman.
My problem with this is that every day the police get hundreds of calls from people under the influence of drink, drugs, mentally ill or just plain attention seeking. Operators talk to these individuals and make a judgement call as to how vulnerable they really believe they are and allocate resources appropriately. Very occasionally we may get it wrong.
If we now follow the guidance of the IPCC, (and God help you if you don't) every time anyone mentions suicide we have to rush to attend. There are consequences for this policy. Firstly, when you need urgent help from the police you may not get it because we are rushing around attending calls from those people crying wolf threatening their lives again. Secondly, most people these days call from a mobile. If we don't really think they are vulnerable, how many hours do we spend trying to locate someone? Thirdly, when the police attend what do they do? They will speak to the person and make a judgement call, just like the operator did. But one of these callers may still go on to kill themselves when the police have left. The IPCC will investigate and advice will be given that we must always attend and we must always call an ambulance, as they are the medical professionals. The ambulance crew will attend and make a judgement call, and so on and so on.
Public services cannot be held responsible for every aspect of peoples lives. We don't live in a society with infinite resources and we cannot stop everyone from harming themselves. We always need to act reasonably but we are not responsible for every problem in society. People and families need to take more responsibility for themselves.