Cambridgeshire Police Federation chair Liz Groom has warned members’ safety was being put at risk by a decision to use 400 police cells to combat overcrowding in prisons.
The move comes amid an “unprecedented increase” in the number of offenders being sent into prisons in the North of England, according to the Ministry of Justice.
But there are fears the decision could place police officers, prisoners and members of the public in danger.
Liz said: “Our members are once again being asked to add to their already difficult and demanding workloads because of problems elsewhere.
“They are already expected to act as social workers, mental health specialists, ambulance drivers and now prison officers. Is it any wonder they feel taken for granted?”
Liz warned using the police service in this way created risks to both prisoners and officers.
She said: “There will be instances where prisoners have mental health issues that need the attention of suitably and fully trained professionals.
“The needs of neurodiverse prisoners must be recognised and supported by specialists, not police officers.”
Liz raised further concerns over the use of force and what powers police officers would have in potentially volatile situations and while transporting prisoners.
“I have very grave concerns about how this decision exposes our members to unnecessary risks while they are taking on a job they are not trained to do,” she said.
“Will our members be required to transport prisoners in custody from one station to another if local stations lack the capacity or existing capacity is reduced?
“This would take more officers off the streets and away from their local communities at a time when the police service is already over-stretched and under-resourced.
“It puts our members and the public in danger, reduces the capacity of our police officers to protect the public and represents a short-term fix to a long-term problem.”
The MoJ said the public would “rightly expect us to take the action necessary to create the extra spaces we need” and that “keeping the public safe and cutting crime by taking dangerous criminals off the streets remains our number one priority”.
Deputy Chief Constable Nev Kemp, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s work on custody, said contingency plans were in place to launch the temporary measure as safely and efficiently as possible.
He said: “Policing will continue to conduct its operational business, arrest criminals, and secure them in custody, with well-established plans in place for prisoners to be placed in neighbouring force custody suites should the need arise.”