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Pioneering Mental Health Initiative

Pioneering Mental Health Initiative At Rotorua Police Station Hailed A Success

New Zealand Police National News Release 10:59am 11 July 2008

Jeanette Knight is a slight woman. She stands no taller than 5'2". She is friendly, gentle, and very personable. Physically she's not imposing but don't let her size fool you. In seven years as Police Consult / Nurse Liaison based at Rotorua Police Station, Jeanette Knight has developed a deserved reputation as a woman who can handle tough situations, even tougher people, and has earned the respect of people on both sides of the law.

Jeanette and her role were the groundbreakers in an initiative that is now attracting national attention. In a position that is fully funded by the Lakes District Health Board Jeanette, a mental health nurse, has since 2001 been the Police Consult / Nurse Liaison co-located at Rotorua Police Station - a shining example of a strategic partnership in action. The success of this initiative in Rotorua has influenced two other police stations - Christchurch Central and Manukau - to establish similar positions, but with additional specialist expertise around alcohol and drug issues.

The Mental Health Initiative was developed by the Rotorua Police and Lakeland Health in 2000 in response to an identified need "for a close working relationship to ensure timely and adequate mental health services intervention for people in the community who in the course of their contact with the Police staff cause sufficient concern to prompt a request for assessment."

Jeanette is responsible for conducting mental health assessments and facilitating the treatment of mentally ill detainees, arrestees and remandees at the Rotorua police station. Jeanette is well qualified for this role, given her specialist psychiatric training, previous experience as a psychiatric nurse at the former Tokanui Hospital, solid working knowledge of New Zealand legal system and "really good gut instincts."

Rotorua Police Area Commander Inspector Bruce Horne says Jeanette's contribution is significant, both to police and to the people she works with and advocates on behalf of.

"Jeanette provides close professional support for our staff and that's a huge benefit to Police. She is also able to provide an immediate and accurate assessment of people in police custody with mental health issues. If additional care is required her knowledge of mental health systems enables her to facilitate that assistance in a timely manner. All these factors result in better outcomes for all parties," says Inspector Horne.

Over the years Jeanette has encountered hundreds of people whom society regards as violent, unpredictable, unbalanced, and/or emotionally fragile.

Not once has she felt afraid. She recalls a time when she was asked to try and calm down a "rather paranoid and aggressive woman" who had been picked up by the police. Jeanette worked her magic and pacified the woman. Later, when a nursing student asked the woman why she had responded to Jeanette and no-one else the woman told her: "Jeanette's the only person who looked me in the eye".

"You have to go with your instincts; you have to go with the patient. Are they dangerous or bad - or are they just unwell?" says Jeanette. "That woman was really unwell but luckily I was able to build a relationship with her and everything turned out fine."

"I was trained to always put the patient first. What I get out of my job is being able to provide better care for our people. We offer an early intervention for someone who might not already be in the service - they get the care they need a whole lot quicker."

With the public release this week of a report entitled "Evaluation of the Mental Health Initiative at the Rotorua Police Station" Jeanette is happy to have been a part of the Rotorua Model.

"My grandmother had dementia so I was never afraid of people with mental illness. And my husband and son are both policemen so I also had a familiarity with their world. I've always wanted to make a difference - and in this role I think I am."


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