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First at the door: how response officers are the 'backbone' of policing

"If you call us, we're the ones who come". Meet the Metropolitan Police's response officers who are helping the city's most vulnerable people 24/7
Published - 18/03/2021 By - Chloe Livadeas

This week is the first Response Policing Week, a new national initiative to recognise and celebrate the work of response officers across the UK.

Sometimes thought of as the 'poor relations' of policing, forces would collapse without them and the vast range of skills they bring to the job. 

Response officer are crime victims' first point of contact with policing -  sometimes the only contact they will ever have with the force. 

The week-long campaign wants to raise their profile, and make it known just how complex the role is and the impact it can have on mental wellbeing. 

The national lead for response policing Merseyside DCC Serena Kennedy, says the role needs to be re-evaluated and seen as multi-specialist in the same way as the medical profession regards GPs.

She also warned that training and development for 999 officers has not kept up with the demands of the role.

Metropolitan Police Superintendent Edward Wells is Response Team Lead for Hackney & Tower Hamlets (Central East BCU). 

He agrees with DCC Kennedy that it is the backbone of the service which needs to “make it a career of choice” in the same way other branches of the service are recongised for unique skills. 

Kirsty has been a response officer for five years and works in the Central East BCU. “You're a relationship therapist, you're a teacher, you're a doctor, you’re a mum, you’re a dad, you’re a grandparent, you’re an advisor, you’re a counsellor, you’re a psychotherapist. And anything else you might want to put in there just for shits and giggles basically. It can be really draining,” she added.

Supt. Wells said a lot of the time the police are called because "lots of other things haven't happened that should have", relating to missing persons or mental health incidents. He has been in policing for 20 years and says it’s getting worse.

“So if we think about mental health crisis in the community, and police often do a great job with what they've got available to them to try and make that person safe in that moment, but in every case there must be and should be better options before they get to the point of crisis.

“Actually, what we all want to see is them getting the right support at that early point, so that it doesn't then become a crisis that the police have to get called to, you know, because somebody stood on top of a tower threatening to jump off or worse, having jumped off.”

The Federation say the police are becoming more and more the 'first resort' for a multitude of such incidents and it's first responders who see the reality of this shift, 

Ana, who is often crewed with Kirsty, has also been a response officer for five years. She said: “I think what people don't realise is we come across so much mental health. You end up having to put so much time, energy and effort in yourself to give yourself to that person. And I think it takes a lot of energy out of us when we're trying to convince someone not to kill themselves on a daily basis.

“People don't think it affects us but it does.”

She said since the pandemic response officers have received a lot more mental health calls, especially from younger people a point backed up by  Supt Wells who says: “People go day in day out to really, really challenging jobs.”

He adds: "I'm really pleased that we've got this way of looking at well-being and culturally, I think as a service, we are much more aware of the toll it takes on our mental health and our wellbeing.”

The officers say something as simple as talking

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