Police and mental health

Explains when you may have contact with the police, what happens if you are arrested and what your rights are if you are taken to the police station. Applies to England and Wales.

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What happens if I am arrested?

What happens is:

  1. you are arrested
  2. you are cautioned
  3. you are taken to the police station

You are arrested

The police can arrest you without a warrant if they suspect (reasonably) that you have committed an offence, or are about to commit one, and they need to arrest you to:

  • prevent you causing injury to yourself or others or damaging property
  • investigate the offence
  • stop you from disappearing
  • take your name or address if you refuse to tell them, or if they doubt (reasonably) you’ve given them your real name and address.

If you are arrested the police must:

  • identify themselves as the police
  • tell you that you’re being arrested
  • tell you what crime they think you’ve committed
  • explain why it is necessary to arrest you
  • explain that you’re not free to leave.

You are cautioned

This is when police say to you: “You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you do not mention, when questioned, something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

You are taken to the police station

You will be taken to a police station if you are not already there. If you try to escape or become violent the police can use 'reasonable force'. They may also handcuff you to take you from one place to another.

What happens at the police station?

You will go to the custody area (suite). When you first see the custody officer:

  • They will ask you some questions about yourself and will complete a custody record and a risk assessment.
  • If they think that you are incapable of understanding the questions due to your mental health problem or other vulnerability they must:
  • They must tell you that you are entitled to free legal advice there and then, or at any time during your detention, and they can call the duty solicitor (or you own solicitor if you have one).

  • They will authorise your finger prints, DNA samples and your photograph being taken.

  • They may authorise you to be searched, breathalysed or be given a urine drug screen test.

  • They may authorise removal of clothing for forensic examination if relevant.

After seeing the custody officer you will be held in a cell or detention room. If you are considered to be vulnerable you should have frequent visits by the custody staff to check you are ok.


This information was published in November 2017. We will revise it in 2019.

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