Policing in Moray: Folk with mental health issues being let down, says cop
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A retiring Superintendent has called for the police's role in dealing with mental health problems to be scaled back.
Murray Main, who grew up in Elgin, states that the force is currently having to step into situations because nobody else is available.
He said: "There's a need for greater co-ordination of services to support vulnerable members of the public – and that support needs to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"We need to determine where the role of policing begins and ends, and where other organisations, health, social care and others need to step forward and take up more of the strain, and at all times of the day and night.
"At present, only around one in 10 individuals taken to hospital by police officers are admitted for help.
"Ninety per cent of the time, they are released, often into our ‘care’ which can often result in people being locked up.
"In 2022, that is surely not the right answer or response for people in crisis, yet that’s the sad reality.
"There are good professionals out there trying their best and I’m pleased to see some signs of improvement, but there’s so much more required."
Murray will officially retire at the end of June following 32 years with the police.
Once a pupil at Pilmuir Primary School, as well as both Forres and Elgin academies, he states that joining the force was a childhood dream.
He said: "I always wanted to be a police officer. In fact, my earliest memory is marching around the garden in a white shirt and black trousers. If I could get hold of some sort of hat I was even happier."
Murray originally attempted to join the force at 16 – the youngest age possible – but was told it would be better, if first, he gained some more experience of the wider world.
Taking that advice to the letter, he enlisted in the merchant navy, flying alone to Hong Kong to become a crew member on the SS Canberra.
After two years of sailing around the globe, his policing career began when he turned 18.
He recalls being issued with the regulation kit, which consisted of a wooden baton, a pair of handcuffs, a radio, a pen and a notebook
The local force had no computers, while society in general had no mobile phones, no CCTV, no dash-cams, no body-worn videos and no internet.
DNA, meanwhile, was still in its infancy.
Following some time working in Aberdeen, he was transferred during 1995 to the roads policing team in Elgin.
He says: "Looking back, I think my time here was probably the period when I grew up the most.
"My family are local and it's somewhere very close to my heart.
"Policing the area where you're from had many benefits as well as some drawbacks, especially when you're dealing with individuals you know. But you have to be professional and, fortunately, most people realise that."
Next there followed stints in Banff, then Huntly, before Murray returned to Aberdeen in 1998.
Finally, after a long period away, he came back to Elgin in 2019 as the area commander for Moray, before being promoted to Superintendent.
Arguably both crime and the police force have changed more during the course of Murray's career than ever before.
He says: "It's a challenge for policing to keep up with the pace of technological advancement.
"And because of the internet we are no longer just dealing with local crimes, but with sophisticated crime groups who activities reach across the world.
"We can celebrate a reduction in crime but the reality is that policing has never been so complex or so demanding on officers' time.
"When I first started police officers were out on the beat, standing outside pubs and clubs.
"Our officers are still doing that now when they can, but they are also going into people's homes to deal with complex family situations.
"There's no doubt that officers are under greater pressure and strain than at any time in the last three decades."
Murray says: "We used to deal with four or five house break-ins a day.
"By contrast, some officers haven't seen one for two years.
"There's also not the same amount of heroin about now."
Asked whether the laws surrounding drugs need to be altered, he replies: "I think we need to look at the options.
"If enforcement alone could eradicate the issue we would have succeeded during the 70s, 80s and 90s."
Murray thought of retiring earlier, but then the pandemic happened and he felt the time was not right to step away.
However, after years of missing birthdays, family events and school sports days, he now intends to spend more time with his two daughters, Ella (15) and Beth (12), as well as his wife Karen, who's a Detective Chief Inspector.
Murray says: "I have had the most amazing 32 years and I'm so proud to have worked with some fantastic and brave individuals
"It's not always been easy. They say every contact leaves a trace and there are streets and roads I can't go past without reflecting on the things I've witnessed. It's something that never leaves you
"But policing is a job like no other and I hope I have been able to make a difference.
"I've stayed loyal to the oath I made what seems like a lifetime ago, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat."