Leanne Morris is a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) for Dyfed-Powys Police based with the Brecon Neighbourhood Policing Team. Along with other PCSOs, Leanne supports the NPT by “engaging with the community and providing a highly-visible and reassuring presence.” In November 2015 Leanne attended the first of our PAVO mental health team’s Stand-up! for emotional health and wellbeing partnership meetings which took place in Brecon.
My colleague Anne Woods, who is funded for three years by Comic Relief to develop this participation work across Powys, set up the meeting at Brecon & District Mind. It was the first of several planned for Brecon, and people who have been in contact with mental health services, and people close to them, are encouraged to attend and meet up with NHS staff, the local mental health advocate and third sector representatives. Local police PCSOs are also invited and generally made very welcome.
And so it was that Leanne attended that first meeting in Brecon, where there were cuppas and cakes… Anne takes up the story:
“As a result of the Comic Relief funded participation work, a spin off project has started to improve relationships between the local police service and people who experience mental ill-health. Regular opportunities have been created to have a ‘Cuppa with a Copper’ at Brecon & District Mind recovery and well-being centre, to improve relationships between police officers and the community they serve.
When Leanne attended that first Brecon Stand up! Meeting it quickly became apparent that the presence of someone in police uniform had an effect on some people there, and a discussion followed about their experiences of coming into contact with the police. Some people recounted negative experiences or negative feelings towards the police as a result. When someone is experiencing extreme emotional distress, frequently it is the police who are the first service they come into contact with."
Some of the issues which arose at the Brecon meeting have been discussed in publications such as The Police Federation of England and Wales publication "Police." In an article entitled Forum to focus on mental health issues in custody, Kevin Huish, the 2013 mental health lead on mental health wrote: "It’s widely acknowledged by all experts that police custody is the last place a person suffering a mental health crisis should be. Being confronted by officers in uniform with all their kit further exacerbates that breakdown." In Powys, a multi-agency approach is now working to improve the police response to those with mental health needs. However, sometimes, even when the crisis is over, and perhaps some time well in the future, just being in a room with someone in police uniform can trigger distressing feelings for an individual.
Back to Anne and the Cuppa with a Copper initiative....
"After the group meeting Leanne approached me to suggest that we find ways to foster better relationships. I followed up by organising a meeting with Val Walker, the manager of Brecon & District Mind, and we developed a proposal to put to the members. As a result, and with the members’ full support, the police now hold a monthly drop-in session to have ‘a Cuppa with a Copper’.
These sessions are informal and provide an opportunity for people to raise issues or seek advice but also simply to get to know each other, whether they wear a uniform or not. By timetabling and advertising the sessions, it gives people the opportunity to stay away if they feel interacting with the police would trigger difficult feelings or memories. Fortunately, however, the drop-ins have been well attended. There is also now talk of the police helping out with some of Brecon & District Mind’s outdoor volunteering projects alongside members.
This spin-off is transforming a negative situation into a positive one. The Comic Relief funded work has revealed tensions in the local community, an opportunity to take practical steps to address them has been followed up, and the initiative is improving the lives of people in the Brecon area.”
PCSO Leanne Morris told us what she thought about the new opportunity to meet up with members of Brecon & District Mind:
"The aim of setting up the Cuppa with a Copper meetings is to build relationships between the police and the people attending the Mind centre in Brecon who have experienced issues with mental health. I wanted to show the human face behind the uniform so that if anything comes up in future people feel happy to approach and speak to us on the street.
I worked for 10 years in the field of substance misuse, and with dual diagnosis clients - people who self-medicate with alcohol. I also spent 2 years at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital working with people with alcohol related problems, including assessing people on a mental health ward. So I can appreciate why people feel the way they do, why they can have varied and negative views of the police.
The meetings are running really well. I've been asked back anyway, so that's a good sign! And one of the Brecon Mind members wants to write a piece for the organisation's newsletter.
Some people only come into contact with the police when they are in crisis - which is obviously not ideal. I want people to meet us at different times to chat. Even if they are just offloading - that can really help."
Thanks to Anne and Leanne for the update, and watch this space for details of the next Cuppa with a Copper meeting in Brecon.
Find out more about Brecon & District Mind activities.
The next Stand up! for emotional health and well being meeting takes place in Newtown on Tuesday 3 May. Contact Anne Woods on firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 01597 822191 if you want to find out more.