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The borough commander of Waltham Forest police says officers sometimes have no time for traditional detective work because they are so busy looking for missing people.
Detective Chief Superintendent Richard Tucker said around 10 to 15 people go missing in the borough every day and has called for an “honest conversation” about the police’s role.
He explained that mental health crises and missing persons are now probably the “biggest demand” on the force, having “grown exponentially over the last five years”.
While insisting police “are not going to step away from helping people”, he said he would like to “see more of other agencies at times where people are in crisis”.
DCS Tucker said: “People think (policing) is all cops and robbers and I wish it was sometimes, it would be far simpler.
“In Waltham Forest, 10 to 15 people go missing a day. Some of them are low risk but if they have got health issues or they’re young people that demands a police response.
“Sometimes my officers do not do any detective work in the traditional sense over the weekend because they spend all their time looking for people.”
He said mental health crises were another huge demand on officers, adding this created “a level of frustration” for officers who “feel they are not trained for it”.
He added: “You get situations where an officer is sitting with a mental health patient for hours on end in A&E and other institutions – people who have not committed any offence but need looking after.
“It affects how we view ourselves as an organisation. If we deal with vulnerable people all the time, that could change our training and recruitment.
“We still recruit very much on the basis of crime fighting and recruits do not think (the job) is about dealing with people with dementia.
“We are not going to step away from helping people but we do need to have a mature conversation with other agencies to see what their operational footprint is.
“It would be nice to see more of those other agencies at times where people are in crisis.”
He acknowledged that in many cases the responsibility fell to police because they have access to helicopters for searching and the legal right to detain people for their own safety.
However, he welcomed trials in South Wales to add psychiatric units to police units, which he said had “worked quite well”.
He said: “That would be something I think is worth investing in, if they could take some of that demand away from us, so we can concentrate on our core role.”