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Campaigner says number of concern for person calls dealt with by Caithness police in 2023 is 'alarming in the extreme'

By Gordon Calder

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THE number of concern for person calls police in Caithness had to deal with last year has been described as "alarming in the extreme."

Health campaigner Iain Gregory, a retired senior policeman and the secretary of Thurso Community Council, spoke out after Freedom of Information (FoI) requests from a member of the public revealed that officers had to deal with 768 of these calls between January 1 and December 31, 2023.

The statistics show there were 424 calls made in the Thurso and Northwest Caithness area with 344 in the Wick and East Caithness Highland Council ward. On average there was around 28 and 35 calls a month in the former and latter areas respectively.

By contrast, there was 222 calls in Sutherland and 366 in Orkney but in Inverness the number of concern for person calls dealt with by the police in that 12-month period was 3097. There was 206 calls made at the Kessock Bridge.

The total figure for the Highlands and Islands was 8984 with the highest number at 886 recorded in August.

The statistics for Scotland as a whole show that there were 146,939 calls made to the police on that issue with the highest number – 24, 492 – in Greater Glasgow. The lowest was in Dumfries and Galloway at 3375.

Iain Gregory says the figures are "alarming in the extreme"
Iain Gregory says the figures are "alarming in the extreme"

Mr Gregory, who is involved with the Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT), said: "I find these figures alarming in the extreme. The police are handling an incredible number of these calls and the feedback I am getting is they are doing a superb job but it should not be the responsibility of the police. There is an overwhelming need for improved levels of funding and staffing for mental health and social care in our area so they can deal with these issues and take the burden of the police and allow them to get on with their real primary functions. They are not professional mental health care workers."

He added: "This in unacceptable and requires to be addressed urgently. Mental health care provision is becoming a major issue."

Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor, Matthew Reiss, also expressed concern about the number of calls the police have to deal with on mental health related matters.

Cllr Matthew Reiss said the statistics are "higher than they should be."
Cllr Matthew Reiss said the statistics are "higher than they should be."

He said there is public pressure to get the police to focus on crime rather than dealing with such issues and argued that other agencies such as NHS Highland and social care should be dealing with these concern for person calls rather than the police.

Councillor Reiss said the FoI figures are "higher than they should be."

"If these agencies cannot pick up these calls then police numbers need to be increased and properly resourced and not reduced. I would agree there should be an increase in funding for mental health and social care departments."

Councillor Reiss added: "These figures from the FoI are roughly what I would expect but they are higher than they should be and represent a huge number of police hours that could be devoted to other matters. Police numbers should not be cut. If anything they should be increased so they can do the job they should be doing."

He noted that recent figures for the Thurso area have been "moving in a better direction" and stressed the legal position in Scotland is different compared to England.

As reported in the Caithness Courier this week, the number of concern for person calls handled by Thurso police dropped from 25 per cent to 22 per cent in the four-month period between October 25 last year and the end of January.

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