Forces are bearing the "intolerable burden" of a "national crisis" in mental health care as Global Positioning System, social workers and community health workers go home at 5pm and leave officers to deal with their patients.
Officers are often required to step in after more suitable services have gone off duty, the assessment found. "The police should be the last resort, not the first port of call".
The national report found that people with mental health problems are being let down by support systems, and an "intolerable burden" is being placed on police officers and staff who are often left to pick up the pieces.
"People in crisis with mental health problems need expert support - support that can't be carried out in the back of a police vehicle or by locking them into a police cell".
In a report on policing and mental health, which found that forces are increasingly becoming the "service of default" in response to people with mental health problems, inspectors praised South Yorkshire Police.
"This is a familiar story which I have highlighted before and one which resonates strongly here in West Yorkshire and is why I am calling on Government to recognise the flawless storm they are creating through sustained underfunding in recent years".
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She said: "Police officers naturally want to respond and do their best to support vulnerable people when they ask for help". Figures from forces show 97,796 crimes and 431,060 incidents were flagged as involving mental health concerns in the year to June 2017, but inspectors said this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Mind was involved with the report - "Policing and Mental Health - Picking Up the Pieces" - by being part of the reference group.
"Residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly who are mentally unwell are better off in the hands of medical experts and not frontline police officers". HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham warned yesterday that the knock-on effect was that forces were able to attend and investigate fewer crimes. But put simply, the police can not plug the gap in mental health support for those most vulnerable in our society.
"Although police officers generally do a good job in identifying and responding to those with mental health problems, they must never be considered a substitute for expertly trained healthcare professionals".
"It is right that the police are there to protect those in immediate danger, but they shouldn't become the first point of call for those who need longer term mental health support and access to prevention measures".