Figures released by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC), show 765 people held under section 136 of the Mental Health Act were kept in police custody between 2014/2015 – compared to 33 in Surrey and 96 in Hampshire.
Section 136 provides police with the power to detain someone with a mental health problem without their consent.
Superintendent Julia Pope, of Sussex Police said: “We agree with mental health experts that a police cell is not the right place for someone who is having a mental health crisis. The number of people being detained under the Mental Health Act in Sussex has fallen in recent years although it still remains higher than in some other parts of the country.
“The higher number is in part due to the compassionate behaviour of our officers and staff. In Sussex we have been proactive in using the Mental Health Act to get support for those who need it.”
“However, we recognised that in previous years too many people with mental health issues have been taken into custody when they needed help and support from health experts rather than police officers.”
A project to reduce the number of mentally ill people in police cells, piloted in Eastbourne in October 2013, was praised by police boss Katy Bourne who said she was ‘delighted’ the scheme had been an initial success.
The street triage project saw with mental health professionals going out on patrol with police officers in a bid to take more people to hospitals and places of safety.
NPCC figures show Sussex Police is responsible for 17 per cent of the 4,537 people who were taken to cells instead of a hospital bed in England and Wales in 2014/15, although national figures show there has been an overall reduction in the use of police custody as a place of safety.
Sussex Police used s136 on 1,428 people between 2014 and 2015, taking 663 – 43 per cent – of people to hospitals.
However, a spokesman for Sussex Police said the figures have been improving: “In 2010/11 a total of 1,923 people were detained, of whom 1,212 – 63 per cent – were taken to police custody.
“In comparison, in 2014/15 a total of 1,424 people were detained, of whom 710 – 50 per cent – were taken to police custody.”
Officers have now stopped taking children with mental health issues into custody in Sussex except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Commander Christine Jones, NPCC lead for mental health and policing, said: “People experiencing a mental health crisis are not criminals.
“It’s unacceptable for anyone, of any age, to end up in a police cell because the appropriate mental health services are not available.”
The force has been working with Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust on the scheme and now Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Horsham and Mid Sussex CCG and Crawley CCG have secured funding to continue the work.
Eastbourne, Hailsham and Seaford CCG has extended the street triage project for a year in January and Hastings and Rother CCG is funding a year-long scheme in Hastings.
Since the pilot started in Eastbourne, 250 admissions to police custody have been avoided for those detained under the Mental Health Act.
Since January 2015, 45 detentions have been avoided in Hastings, ten in Crawley and 48 in Worthing.
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne spoke out in support of government plans to provide up £15m to deliver more places of safety in June.
“Vulnerable people need to receive improved support and care from health professionals,” she said.
“They should not be greeted by police officers, then handcuffed and taken to a cell but instead be seen by medical experts, who can offer them the appropriate care and support.”
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