Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), said it was a “fundamental failure” of the system that the ambulance service could “step back, knowing the police service will be there”.
But he rejected an oft-repeated claim that only 20 per cent of police work related to crime, saying society had simply got “better at not prosecuting people” with mental health issues.
Senior officers have repeatedly said that only a fifth of incidents responded to by officers result in a crime being recorded.
But Mr Steele told the SPF’s biennial conference that the figure simply reflected the fact people are no longer being criminalised in the same way.
He said: “Doing other people’s jobs is what the police are increasingly doing – that’s the reality.
“The issue of whether police are dealing with crime or whether they are dealing with the mentally ill is often misrepresented. Criminal behaviour is a matter for the police, the treatment of
the mentally ill is a matter for the health service.
“People are still committing crime in the same way as they did in the past, we’re just better at not prosecuting them.
“If someone is shouting and screaming in the streets, 20 years ago we would have locked that person up and taken them to a court. Now we may lay hands on them, but the chances of
them seeing the inside of a cell are pretty slim. That doesn’t mean the crime hasn’t been committed, just that we are dealing with it in a totally different way.”
Mr Steele, whose organisation represents 98 per cent of the country’s rank and file officers, said Scotland was in the midst of an “acute mental health crisis”.
He added: “To say 80 per cent of police time isn’t spent dealing with crime is just balderdash. We’re still dealing with the same crimes, we’re just not criminalising people in the same way.”
Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “When it comes to mental health, it’s better for the individual concerned to have someone who can deal with their health issues, as opposed to a
“It’s better if we can intervene as early as we can from a health perspective to deal with mental health issues so a person doesn’t come into the criminal justice system.
“We have to tackle this because it’s not acceptable that it’s taking up so much police time and effort.”