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Christmas is a difficult time for the vulnerable

This week Alison's blog talks about vulnerable people at Christmas and the officers and staff who dealt with a situation on the M5 last week.

Evidence shows that a vulnerable person, or a person who makes themselves vulnerable either by design or accident, is at greater risk of becoming a victim.

There are many ways that a person can be considered vulnerable – it can be somebody who has mental health issues or a learning disability, it can be someone who is in an abusive relationship, it can be someone who is targeted because they belong to an ethic minority or because of their sexual orientation – it can simply be because someone has chosen to drink more than they are used to on a Christmas night out. This list is not exhaustive but I am sure you get the idea – anybody in one of those groups might be at greater risk of becoming a victim.

For one reason or another, at Christmas time vulnerability seems to be emphasised.

Of course a lot of that can be put down to alcohol but it isn’t that simple – the festive period is not a joyous time for everyone. Many people find it a very difficult period due to their financial situation and the pressure they are under to make Christmas special for their children. For others it is a time of year that reminds them of those they have lost. And for others, sadly, it is simply the fact that people spend more time together than they usually do and it puts too much strain on their relationship.

We know that reported incidents of domestic abuse increase throughout December and peaks in between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve by a staggering 26 per cent. We also know that more people are reported missing during December and that this increase peters out after Christmas Day.

Last year there were around 32 incidents of domestic abuse (that’s more than 900) and 25 missing people (750) every day in December last year in Devon and Cornwall.

The cost of policing these incidents is significant but can you imagine the impact it has on the officers and staff who are called up to deal with the offenders, the victims and their families. With that in mind I would like to pay tribute to the officers and staff who brought a potentially tragic incident to a satisfactory conclusion last Friday.

Many of you will be aware of the situation which developed on 7 December when the M5 and the surrounding roads were brought to a standstill as police were called to help a person with mental health issues who was standing on the wrong side of the railings on a bridge near Cullompton.

The incident manager Inspector and her team were faced with a situation that changed by the minute - at any time she may have been forced to call a major incident. Initially, the main focus was on the man himself and his safety. He was clearly incredibly anxious and his condition was deteriorating as the freezing weather took its toll. He didn’t even have a coat on. The noise coming from the M5 made it almost impossible for the trained police negotiators to get close enough to the man to talk to him in a meaningful way.

As he was close to the centre of the motorway she had no option to close both sides of the road which also allowed negotiators to get closer to him without making him more anxious. It caused tailbacks for miles. Some people were trapped in freezing cars for many hours. Others were forced to take laborious routes home via back roads. It was incredibly frustrating for those involved, particularly in these weeks building up to Christmas when people are working to tight deadlines.

At the same time as the Inspector and her team were doing all they could on the scene there were just many striving to ease the situation for travellers and making sure messages got out via social and traditional media sources. Many of these frustrated people took to social media to talk about their plight, most expressing concern for the poor individual concerned but some were far less understanding and unfortunately some were downright nasty and spiteful.

The incident has brought into sharp focus the effect that mental health and vulnerable people have on the police service, and it being the time of goodwill to all men (and women) I thought this was a good time to highlight those demands.

There were in excess of 20 officers from different departments on the ground at the incident. There were more than that number involved in the police control centre and working for partner organisations.

The result was a good one, and this poor individual got to a safe place where he could get the help he so badly needed. Officers are currently considering the best way forward to make sure he gets the help he needs in the future.

It’s what most police officers are ready to do every day. Every time they head off to work they know there is a chance they will be dealing with vulnerable people who need their help, and they do it without question.

My thanks go to them.

So finally, I would just like to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous new year. I look forward to continuing my regular blog in early January.

Alison Hernandez