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Mental health calls to police in Caithness have 'gone through the roof' in past year

By Alan Hendry

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The number of calls to the police in Caithness from people experiencing mental health problems has "gone through the roof" over the course of the pandemic, it has emerged.

Sergeant Brian Hamilton of Police Scotland told Wick community councillors: "It would shock you, some of the stuff we are dealing with just now."

He also revealed that drug issues locally were being exacerbated by fake Valium and Xanax purchased online.

Sgt Hamilton was giving an update at Monday night's online meeting of the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council.

He reported that calls relating to mental health “seem to be the bulk of our business these days”.

He said: “From the end of March last year the amount of mental health calls we’ve been dealing with has just gone through the roof.

“We had so many suicides last year… In the past week there have been two sudden deaths, one of which was a suicide, albeit that wasn't Wick.

“But the policing structure has changed up here as well. I am the police sergeant for Caithness just now, I’m not just covering Wick."

Calls relating to mental health 'seem to be the bulk of our business these days', a police sergeant told Wick community councillors this week.
Calls relating to mental health 'seem to be the bulk of our business these days', a police sergeant told Wick community councillors this week.

He said officers would like to attend more of the “lower end” call-outs but pointed out: “We're basically turning into a sort of social police force. We're dealing with stuff like this all day every day just now. There's a lot of it going on."

He told community councillors: "You can't phone Wick police station now – you can't phone and ask to speak to the local police officer. When you phone you get through to the control room.

"In the last few months they've changed over to this thing called the resolution teams. So if you phone up to report a minor crime, like someone kicked a wing mirror off your car, you may never get a local police officer coming to your house. It may be dealt with by a resolution team that are based in Inverness – because the demand on frontline officers is so high just now.”

Sgt Hamilton was asked whether further cutbacks were to blame, but he said this was not the case.

“The complexion of policing has changed so much since Covid came in," he said. "Whether it’ll go back to the way it was once Covid has gone, I don’t know."

But he added: “I started this job 20 years ago, and there were a lot more officers than there are now. We have probably four or five times the demand of what was placed on each individual officer when I started this job 20 years ago. It has completely changed.”

Community council chairperson Joanna Coghill said members would understand that police officers had to prioritise in order to deal with Covid-related incidents and people in crisis.

Sgt Hamilton replied: “I don’t like saying stuff like this because it almost sounds like I’m trying to excuse our non-attendance for minor calls.

“When I speak to people, they don’t really know what the police do. I try to explain to them what we do and how time-consuming things are that we deal with.

“If we go up to somebody who is feeling suicidal in their house, it’s not a case of going in and giving them a pat on the back and walk out of the room. We then have to come back and we have to fill out forms that we share with the NHS, and there’s a whole lot of data protection considerations. We have to update incidents.

“We may only be in someone’s house for 10 or 15 minutes. It might then take an hour to do the paperwork for it when we come back to the station. I could literally not leave this desk – I could sit here and keep myself busy all day, every day.”

Community councillor Wendy Campbell highlighted recent vandalism and hoped the situation would improve after investment in new CCTV infrastructure for the town centre.

Mrs Campbell asked Sgt Hamilton if he was aware of young people locally using vapes to take cocaine.

Sgt Hamilton replied: “That’s a new one on me.

“The big issue we’re having with drugs just now are things like fake Valium and Xanax – they’re buying it off the internet and WhatsApp. There’s a lot of really strong stuff on the go.”

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