Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Service concluded the UK's mental health system was "broken" after discovering the Met receive a mental health-related call every four minutes, and an officer is sent to respond to one every 12 minutes. It also found the police, not the ambulance service, are called out for half of mental health-related calls.
The report says the police service is doing a good job in difficult circumstances, but expresses grave concerns over whether the police should be involved in responding to mental health problems at current levels, and demands a "radical rethink" to what has become a "national crisis".said.
Responding to the "damning" report, John Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, welcomed the "frank assessment" and said the Prime Minister and Home Secretary "should hang their heads in shame".
"[The report] acknowledges we are the service of last resort, the organisation which cannot refuse to go when we are called, the people who fill the 5-9 gap left by other agencies and that is placing an ‘intolerable burden' on police officers. The government's austerity policies have led us to this dire state. I hope the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary read this report and hang their heads in shame at the situation they have not only created, but were warned about on numerous occasions. It is not right for anyone — officers or the public — that the police should be responsible for the safety and welfare of people that other professionals would be better placed to deal with. We're police officers not social workers or medical experts," Apter said.
INQUEST — a charity supporting bereaved families of individuals who've died during or after contact with police — have long-documented how police are routinely relied upon to deal with incidents well outside their sphere of understanding, expertise or experience — and the public are actively advised to consider police the first resort in many situations when they don't seem an immediately obvious or proportionate way of resolving an issue.
As a result, officers are ever-frequently thrust into scenarios they don't understand or know how to control — and their reflex response is often to suppress any disturbance or threat with physical restraints, significantly raising the risk of encounters turning lethal. Were the British state were to invest resources in a public health rather than criminal justice response, the charity suggests there'd "more likely than not be a sizeable reduction in custody deaths.
A palpable example of the fatal potential of police is provided by the death of Thomas Orchard. One morning in October 2012, while he was in the grip of a schizophrenic episode, officers were called to Exeter city centre due to his erratic behaviour.
Just over an hour after reaching the station, Thomas was found unconscious in his cell. He was eventually pronounced dead at hospital, after attempts to resuscitate him failed. The resultant post-mortem ruled his death was "related to asphyxiation".
In March 2013, IOPC forebear the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) submitted a file of evidence on the case to the Crown Prosecution Service, but the body ruled there was insufficient evidence for the arresting officer to be charged with unlawful arrest or unnecessary use of force. Four months later, the IPCC again passed a file to the CPS, arguing serious criminal charges be brought against two custody detention staff, three police officers and a custody sergeant. The six were placed on restricted duties, but weren't prosecuted or even suspended.