Sir Thomas Winsor said the police service was under strain from what he called the “modern tsunami” of online fraud, and from the failure of other bodies to deal with children’s and teenagers’ mental health care.
He said two Yorkshire forces - South Yorkshire and Humberside - “required improvement” and warned that the lack of other services meant that police had become “the service of first resort, “long after the chances of effective prevention have been lost”.
He also warned of the “fragmented state” of police IT systems.
His report comes a week after a government inspector delivered a damning indictment of the Humberside and South Yorkshire forces, and raised concerns about their ability to maintain safety and reduce crime.
Sir Thomas warned today against what he termed the “insidious creep” of expecting police forces to be able to deal with the increasing demand caused by a shortage in mental health provision.
He said: “The police are considered to be the service of last resort. In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.
“The provision of mental healthcare has reached such a state of severity that police are often being used to fill the gaps that other agencies cannot. This is an unacceptable drain on police resources, and it is a profoundly improper way to treat vulnerable people who need care and help.”
He added: “The obligation of the police is to prevent crime. This is not only because this makes society safer but also because it is far cheaper to prevent a crime than it is to investigate and arrest the offender after the event.
“The same is true of mental ill-health, which is not a crime.”
Sir Thomas also says the police are “particularly far behind” many other organisations in the way they use technology.
He said: “For too long, a culture of insularity, isolationism and protectionism has prevented chief officers from making the most effective use of the technology available to them. The blinkers have to come off.”