Police criticised by IPCA after Lower Hutt man tried to kill himself in the cells

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has criticised the way police handled the detention of a man with mental health issues who tried to kill himself in custody.

In a judgement released today, Judge Colin Doherty of the IPCA outlined the 2016 incident, which took place about 2am on October 9.

Police were called to an address in Lower Hutt where a woman was concerned a man was trying to kill himself.

They eventually took him into custody for a compulsory mental health assessment, but the IPCA said they should have taken him to a hospital instead.

While he was in custody, he again tried to kill himself and police were criticised for the urgency they assigned to him receiving an assessment.

Rather than being assigned to receive "frequent care and monitoring", the IPCA said, the man should have been given "constant care and monitoring" - considering he had tried to kill himself just hours earlier.

The officer involved reasoned that the man, after being taken into custody, "was compliant, non-aggressive and conversing freely with me ... he was calming down well and his agitation was significantly reduced".

The IPCA said that, as well as picking the wrong monitoring frequency for the man, they also failed to adhere to police policy in terms of meeting "frequent care" requirements, as they did not check on him frequently enough.

"Mr X should have been constantly monitored. However, as he was evaluated as ‘in need of care and frequent monitoring’, Officer E should have ensured that Mr X was at least frequently monitored," the report said.

The IPCA found that, after the man attempted suicide again in custody, he was then given appropriate care.

"Police had a duty of care to Mr X and, given his state of mind and determination to harm himself, they were justified in detaining him," Judge Doherty said.

"It would have been preferable if Police had tried to contact the Crisis Resolution Service to find out if a Duly Authorised Officer was available to come to Mr X’s address to assess him or conduct an assessment over the phone.

"It would also have been preferable if they had discussed taking Mr X to hospital before telling him he was going to be taken to the District custody Unit."

The report said the officers involved have received "expectation setting conversations" in regards to assessing the monitoring needs of people in custody.

The Authority recommended that police implement a different criteria in their systems to differentiate between those who have attempt suicide previously, and those who had attempted it just prior to being brought in.

Superintendent Sam Hoyle, Wellington District Commander, said in a release that they accepted the findings.

"The District Custody Unit is not the right place for a person suffering significant mental distress to be taken to and all options must be considered before doing so," Mr Hoyle said.

"Mental health incidents are complex and our staff have to make quick decisions when responding to them.

"We expect high standards of care from our staff during such events and following this incident these standards and expectations have been reinforced."

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