After-hours fix

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Health chiefs will boost staff and increase mental health provision following an independent investigation into the unlawful detainment of a Queenstown man by police.

Last October, the man was detained by police for seven hours following a suicide attempt, while they waited for a mental health assessment team to arrive from Invercargill.

He told Mountain Scene about his ordeal and complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA).

The IPCA this week released its report into the incident, finding police acted “unlawfully” by detaining him, but that their actions were “reasonable in the circumstances”.

The Southern DHB tells Scene it has also conducted its own investigation into the incident. It is now in the process of recruiting an after-hours officer for Queenstown.

The IPCA report also highlights increasing pressure on police to respond to mental health incidents.

Police stats reveal Queenstown-Lakes cops have received 130 reports of mental health and threatens/attempts suicide incidents since January.

IPCA chairman Judge Colin Doherty says such incidents are commonplace “and demonstrate the real difficulties confronted by police when dealing with those experiencing a mental health crisis”.

DHB mental health, addictions and intellectual disability general manager Louise Travers says the DHB’s working to provide a more timely mental health crisis response service in the Wakatipu between midnight and 8.30am.

Currently the Southland-based mental health emergency team covers the Wakatipu area between those hours.

Travers says: “Crisis calls are responded to promptly when they are received between 8.30am and midnight, and we are currently recruiting for an after-hours duly authorised officer on call to be based in Queenstown.

“Responses across the district can vary depending on individual circumstances, their triage priority, and distances for travel, as in this situation, from Invercargill to Queenstown.

“Within the current triage process, an emergency response supports police, ambulance or fire as the first responder, whereas an urgent mental health response ideally occurs within four hours.”

The IPCA report states police detained the man for an assessment after he called Lifeline and disclosed a suicide attempt, before “abruptly” ending the call.

Speaking to the incident, the man alleged police stormed his home, brutally manhandled and handcuffed him, then turned away St John paramedics who’d been late arriving after getting lost.

He also claimed cops took him to the police station cells, stripped him, put him in a safety gown, and denied him food, water, bedding and his usual medication.

However, the IPCA report outlines how police took steps to prevent the man from harming himself, and officers.

Those steps included handcuffing him, cutting off his T-shirt in a bid to get him to put on a tear-resistant gown, and removing a mattress from his cell after he put it against a window to obscure himself from view.

The report also outlines how the supervising sergeant was “disappointed” with the DHB response, after he was told duly authorised officers would have to travel from Invercargill because the Queenstown service had closed for the night.

Invercargill mental health staff did not arrive in Queenstown until seven hours later. They assessed the man and authorised his release.

“The Authority found that police did not have legal authority to take the man into custody, or to detain him at the police station overnight,” the report reads.

“However police took steps to ensure the man’s immediate safety, and the delay in obtaining a mental health assessment was beyond police control.”

The man’s father says he’s disappointed with the “soft” report.

“It’s one of those ‘six-of-one, half-a-dozen of the other, nobody’s guilty kind of things’, which is pretty annoying.

“I think it does show it was handled wrongly, but it’s a pretty soft report, to be honest.”

The report also noted that “mental health legislation appears to assume that mental health workers will be the primary responder to people in crisis, with police assisting when necessary”.

“In reality, police are often the sole responder and must deal with distressed and volatile people.”

Queenstown Lakes Area Commander Inspector Olaf Jensen says he supports the actions of the officers involved.

Police have a “duty of care to protect life and safety”, Jensen says.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz