Up to 4,500 people in mental health crisis were unlawfully held in police custody in England and Wales in a year.
It happened because of a lack of hospital beds and police officers say the problem persists in some areas.
“The demand placed on policing by The Government’s continuing failure to properly fund mental health services is growing, and it’s putting people at risk,” said Steve James, Chairman of Gloucestershire Police Federation.
“A BBC report showing that 4,500 people were unlawfully held in police custody due to mental health issues in 2018 is only the tip of the iceberg.
“The law allows police officers to detain people if their mental health poses a risk to themselves or others. It is still lawful to hold people in custody on these grounds in very limited circumstances, and occasionally they will go on to become held unlawfully as the NHS fails to source a mental health bed placement for them. This is not a decision ever taken lightly by a custody officer.
“On top of this is the significant resource drain where officers detain someone under the Mental Health Act and have to wait, often for hours, for NHS staff to attend. Add to this the thousands of calls attended by officers each day that result from mental health crises, breakdowns and traumas and the draw on policing resources is relentless.”
Steve added: “What shouldn’t be forgotten is that these are health issues, not criminal issues and whilst they will do their best, police officers are not health professionals. These are health crises that deserve a health response and a failure to address this will only continue to put the public and those who are ill, at risk.
“Every resource that policing is forced to divert to these health issues is resource not being used to tackle crime and disorder.
“In our own force we have seen a 38% increase in mental health incidents over the summer and this has forced us to divert valuable specialist resources from other areas of force to help bolster our response to these calls. That is simply unsustainable but will only continue whilst the Government fails to properly address and fund mental health services.”