Providing mental health input to regional police firearms officer training centre

Our mental health services have been running specialist training sessions for police officers who operate firearms, giving them the knowledge and understand about how to best help vulnerable and mentally ill people in critical situations.

Lucy Swatling, a registered mental health nurse at Open Mental Health, and Dr Tiff Earle, our consultant psychiatrist in the Sedgemoor older people’s mental health team, have joined forces with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust to provide the sessions for firearms officer trainees at the police regional centre in Portishead. The training is now a standard part of the firearms course for all students.

Lucy and Tiff provide training on the most appropriate ways of helping vulnerable and mentally ill people, with tips on aspects such as crisis response, de-escalation and nonverbal communication. Steve Budd, an involvement coordinator at AWP, gives a moving talk about his lived experience of bipolar disorder.

Tiff said: “The course has been such a success, with every single participant telling us that they feel much more confident in dealing with vulnerable or mentally ill people if they came across them in their role as a firearms officer.”

PC Benjamin Main, National Firearms Instructor, said:

“The course improves knowledge to allow officers to make an informed decision at critical moments. The session has improved officer’s knowledge and understanding of dealing with people with vulnerability. The ability to hear a story from someone who has been dealt with by police while acutely unwell, has been invaluable.

“Having Tiff, Lucy and Steve assist in training future firearms officers has been fantastic. Students can ask questions based on experiences that they have had during their career to help them better understand how and why things happened.

“Ultimately though, if the training can assist one officer to recognise a mental health related crisis, and resolve it without the use of lethal force, it has had the ultimate success.”