Met Police Committee - more questions than answers
Following on from OBV’s reporting earlier this week that a leading BME campaigning group slammed the Metropolitan Police’s Commission on Policing and Mental Health as nothing more than a ‘cosmetic exercise’, OBV attended the Police and Crime Committee, which convened at City Hall yesterday morning.
Since the inquest into the death of Sean Rigg, who died in police custody back in 2008, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has commissioned an independent review into the relationship between the Police, local mental health service providers, and those who suffer mental health conditions. There is serious concern that community mental health provision and its interaction with the police and the public is not managed properly, resulting in needless tragedy. The Independent Commission, led by Lord Victor Adebowale, will not focus on individual inquests or cases, but will undertake a comprehensive review of all of the police’s interaction.
At the meeting, London Assembly members from across parties expressed concern that the Independent Commission had neglected to include the charities such as Inquest or Black Mental Health UK. Statistically, men from the African Caribbean communities are disproportionately more likely to arrive at mental health service providers via police contact. Jenny Jones, Green Party AM and Deputy Chair of the Committee, was particularly astounded by the failure of the inquiry to represent particular BME stakeholders. The Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Craig Mackey, responded that it was essential that the review was impartial and independent, and assured Assembly Members that Lord Adebowale would listen to evidence from all important sources.
One initial response to the inadequacies of combined policing and mental health services, announced at the meeting, is the introduction of CCTV in police vans. It is hoped that the cameras, to be piloted in four vans in Lambeth next month, will provide greater protection and security for those remanded in custody. But will this be enough to turn around a public perception that some pockets of the police are disconnected and failing the BME community? In turn, Jennette Arnold, Labour member of the Assembly for north east London, urged the Deputy Commissioner to make the terms of reference and data on deaths in police custody more accessible, insisting that greater information and transparency was needed to include the public in the findings of the investigation.
When pressed by the Assembly, the Deputy Commissioner gave the excuse that the official police policy on dealing with individuals with mental health problems ran to 100 pages, and that most officers could not be expected to be familiar with all the procedure. Crucially, Ms Arnold pointed out that in the case of Sean Rigg, the officers failed to uphold Mr Rigg’s basic human rights, let alone give appropriate care to a custodian suffering from a mental health condition.
The Police and Crime Committee also scrutinised the proposed measures for cut-backs in the London Police forces, facing a budget reduced by £514 million (almost a tenth of the annual budget). The Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, said that the challenge was to ‘cut crime, cut costs, change culture’. Here at OBV, we insist that the police must not lose sight of their obligation to tackle racial inequality, when fulfilling these aims. The findings of the investigation are due in February 2013.
Philippa de Lacy