Watchdog chastises NSW police on mental health approach

·2-min read
Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS

Nearly half of all NSW Police critical incidents involve a person experiencing a mental health crisis but officers receive "extremely limited" training on how to respond.

That's the view of the state's police watchdog after a widescale review of 157 death or serious injury incidents involving officers in the past five years.

The watchdog said the majority of critical incident investigations were conducted in a thorough and objective manner but there was scope for improvement.

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission report's release on Monday followed widespread shock over the tasering of a 95-year-old woman in a nursing home in regional NSW last week.

The review found 43 per cent of police critical incidents have involved an interaction with a person in mental health crisis.

While the force had introduced a four-day mental health intervention program for officers, only 300 of the 16,000 sworn officers were trained each year.

The Police Ambulance Clinician Early Response (PACER) program, allowing clinicians to help police de-escalate complex mental health incidents, only operated in one-third of police districts and for eight hours a day.

"Mental health training has continued to be an issue of concern since the commission began monitoring critical incident investigations (in 2017)," the review said.

The force was also missing the chance to swiftly improve policies and practices by not finalising each critical incident investigation until related coronial or criminal proceedings were complete, the watchdog said.

Interim reports were needed to identify and implement changes in a timely manner, it said.

"Changes to such practices should not be put on hold until the end of coronial or criminal proceedings," the watchdog's chief commissioner, Peter Johnson SC, said.

Mr Johnson, a former Supreme Court justice, called on NSW Health to better fund PACER.

"This award-winning program gets mental health clinicians working alongside police when responding to people in mental health crisis," he said.

The watchdog said it would monitor the implementation of its report's seven recommendations.

NSW Police noted the report and said it would consider the recommendations.

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