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  • Tom Wood

Our front line workers need to be better equipped to deal with people suffering from violent...

...mental disturbance


This is my latest Scotsman column, out today (12th April 2022).

Bowing out with no great fanfare last week was one of our most senior and experienced police officers.


For four years Gil Imery has held the post of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, effectively the professional watchdog for policing in Scotland.


The first woman to hold the post Ms Imery filled the role with aplomb. Maintaining her independence while balanced between a powerful national police force and a controlling government was no easy feat.


While some in government may see the police service as just another department, it is not.


The operational independence of the Chief Constable is the very foundation of our policing model – and for good reason.


It is one of the safeguards of our democracy that policing and politics stay as far apart as possible. Recent events involving serving or recently retired politicians only go to prove how essential this separation is.


But of course the police must be held to account and a whole raft of checks and balances are in place, including the Inspectorate of Constabulary. It is a role of challenge and support but also one of scrutiny and independence.


Ms Imery, herself a hugely experienced operational police officer, never pulled her punches in her efforts to improve the police service. Typical of her was her retirement statement.


No soppy platitudes from Ms Imery, instead a frank outline of some of the challenges that lie ahead. Principal among these was the need for better working arrangements between police and mental health services.


She was right. More and more our frontline services are having to deal with extremely violent people suffering form acute mental disturbance. Sometimes brought on by substance misuse, such incidents are lethally dangerous to the sufferer and our front line workers who must deal with the violence.


As if on cue, as Ms Imery was making her remarks, a practical demonstration was unfolding in the normal tranquility of Inverness. There, the police, in full view of social media were called upon to deal with a man.


Dressed in full combat gear including gas mask, this burly individual had allegedly confronted police with knives and a chain.


This incident concluded when the man charged at the police and was brought

down by a well-aimed baton round (plastic bullet).


No television picture can do justice to the violence and terror of such incidents. We expect much of our police firearms officers and here again we saw cool heads and a steady hand resolve a deadly situation without deadly force.


Be in no doubt, in most other parts of the world, our knife-wielding man from Inverness would have been shot dead.


Dealing with such violence does not just affect our police. Fire, ambulance and hospital staff are all at risk. We must consider how to equip our front line services to deal with this dangerous issue.


As for Gil Imery, let’s hope we have not heard the last of her. She still has much to contribute to public life.

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