During this month’s Delivery and Beating Crime meeting (May 23) with senior police officers, Bedfordshire’s PCC, Festus Akinbusoye, said he’d been sent a question about police officers “babysitting” children and vulnerable adults.
This, the questioner added, should be the responsibility of local authorities and social services.
The chief constable, Garry Forsyth, said this is something the force is aware of, and it has seen a post-pandemic increase in individuals, including children, with complex needs.
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“Without going into any of the specifics, because these are individuals with complex needs, but it’s probably helpful for the public to understand some of the demands that are placed on police officers,” he said.
“We ended up with an 11-year-old child in a police station, which is not really an appropriate place, but we couldn’t accommodate her anywhere else and EDT were unable to accommodate her.
“Two officers were with her for 21 hours.”
In another example, the chief constable said three officers spent just under 30 hours of police time transporting a 16-year-old out of the county.
“Those aren’t single or isolated occasions, sadly they are far too frequent,” he said.
The PCC asked if there are implications on the force’s ability to police the county’s streets.
“It clearly stretches it, because if we’ve got three officers that are in a van transporting somebody out of county for nine and a half hours, that’s three officers that aren’t on the shift,” the chief constable replied.
“If we get one of those and then we get another two people in hospital and then another three people looking after a mental health patient because we can’t access the needs there, then we start to deplete our operational capacity quite significantly.
The PCC said: “My understanding is that there might be one or two forces who have stopped accepting those kinds of jobs.”
The chief constable replied that the force is looking at how other forces deal with these situations, including Essex Police. This force doesn’t accept the responsibility when partners try to pass cases across.
“They’ve reduced their calls in Essex down from around 70 a day to 10 a day because they just don’t take responsibility for them,” he said.
“It is a problem, and it’s not what cops want to do either, they don’t want to sit in a hospital for extended periods of time, they want to be out on the street serving the public.
“But it comes back to the point where ultimately we are there to preserve life.
“I think we need to encourage our partner agency colleagues to step [up] and make sure that they’re making the contribution they need to,” he said.