Cells not appropriate for people in mental health crisis, says Federation

Police custody is not an appropriate setting for people experiencing a mental health crisis.

That’s the message from Dyfed Powys Police Federation secretary Roger Webb as new figures reveal the scale of the issue across England and Wales.

Statistics obtained by the BBC under Freedom of Information law suggests up to 4,500 people in mental health crisis were 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.

Now Roger has called for Government funding in mental health services to ensure that people in crisis receive the appropriate care and support and to ease the pressure on policing.

“These figures are concerning,” said Roger, “People who experience a mental health crisis need to be in an appropriate health-based service receiving appropriate care and support. That most certainly isn’t a police cell.

“They’re not criminals and our members are not medical professionals, but too often we’re called upon as the service of last resort to pick up the shortfall in underfunded mental health services.

“It’s putting pressure on policing and is an issue.

“We need governments to invest in mental health services now for the good of people in crisis and to ease the pressure on our overstretched police officers and staff.”

Roger’s comments were echoed by John Apter, the chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales.

He 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.”