The chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation has called for Government action to reduce the numbers of people in mental health crisis being unlawfully held in custody.
Liz Groom says there needs to be a much greater investment in mental health services so that people receive the right care and support rather than being detained in a police cell.
She said: “People who are experiencing a mental health crisis are not criminals, and police officers aren’t medical professionals.
“Too often policing is the service of last resort but we shouldn’t accept that. People should not be detained in a police cell because the care and support that they need is not available.
“We need to see action and funding from the Government to ensure people receive the treatment they need at a time of crisis, and that police officers can focus on the many other pressures we face.”
Her comments come as figures obtained by the BBC under Freedom of Information law suggests that up to 4,500 people in mental health crisis were unlawfully held in police custody in England and Wales in a year.
The figures come from a report commissioned by Theresa May’s Government and given to ministers in 2018.
John Apter, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: “It is deeply frustrating to see more headlines revealing members of the public in mental health crisis are being kept in police cells when they absolutely shouldn’t be as they are patients – not prisoners.
“The Federation has been warning about this issue for many years which presents an unfair risk to both people in desperate need of professional help and the police officers left with no choice but to step in.
“If we fail to talk about this the problem won’t go away – it’s almost like a dirty little secret and nobody wants to accept we have a problem when in fact it’s a massive issue which is only getting worse.
“Our NHS and social care services simply don’t have the capacity and policing is unable to say no. This must change.
“Alongside us, other policing bodies, including the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, have supported urgent need for action as the police service continues to be used to plug the gaps of other agencies when they already struggling to cope with demand. This is grossly unfair and must stop.
“I would urge the Government to take responsibility, both legislatively and financially, so that real money is put into secure non-police facilities, drug and alcohol services, community health and social care programmes so that the most vulnerable people in society can be helped and protected.”