Officers have spent hours with vulnerable people in A&E, says chief constable
Some police officers have spent up to 16 hours with vulnerable people in hospital emergency departments when they should be in the care of health professionals, the chief constable in Northern Ireland said.
George Hamilton claimed substantial changes were required, amid tightening police budgets, to support those in crisis or with chaotic lifestyles.
Policing Board member Nichola Mallon declared it "ludicrous" to have officers spending so much time in hospitals.
Mr Hamilton told the Board: " It isn't sensible to have police officers sitting in accident and emergency for up to 12 or 16 hours trying to look after a vulnerable person who should be in the care of properly-trained health professionals.
"We need to work closely with our partners to change this reality; and public service providers need the support of our political leaders to deliver the substantial changes required."
A stretched PSNI is expecting budgets to be cut further, possibly by up to £40.5 million or 6%, next year.
Mrs Mallon said: "Police have told me anecdotally that a person could be needing supervision for a weekend. You are taking them away from the front line and the impact that is having on accident and emergency. It is a ludicrous situation."
Mr Hamilton said there was an over-reliance on overtime because he had fewer officers than he required to meet growing and changing demands and that was pushing sickness absence to unacceptably high levels.
He told the Board that of the half a million calls the service received last year, fewer than a fifth related to crime. Most were linked to vulnerability and harm.
Vulnerability means a person needing special care, support or protection because of age, disability or risk of abuse or neglect.
The senior officer added: " Often there is overlap between what may be a health problem, a social problem or a community safety issue.
"That means caring for others, dealing with vulnerability, protecting life and upholding the law are currently part of what police might do in any given day."
He acknowledged other parts of the public service faced similar challenges and welcomed efforts to introduce a joined-up approach.
"To support the individual who is in crisis, or who may have a chaotic lifestyle, where a number of issues compound to place them in harm's way, more often than not we need a joined-up, multi-agency approach to help them."
Mr Hamilton has apologised after a Twitter exchange during which he appeared to dismiss the pressure officers faced.
He told a user who said officers were taking on more responsibilities : "Dry your eyes, do the job or move on."