Assistant Police Commissioner Nick Perry is urging the expansion of a pilot scheme in which psychiatric nurses work alongside the police.
Officers are dealing with an avalanche of mental-health-related callouts - 56% more than 10 years ago.
Under the pilot scheme, mental health nurses have been working with the police in Christchurch, Counties-Manukau and Rotorua.
Mr Perry says the scheme works in those areas, and while nurses aren't needed in every police station, discussions are under way with the Ministry of Health about extending the scheme to more watch-houses around the country.
Canterbury police District Commander Superintendent Gary Knowles says there are two pscychiatric nurses working with police in Christchurch and they can assess and work with people brought in with a mental health condition straight away.
He says in many cases, the problems are resolved on the spot.
Police officers attended more than 20,000 mental health incidents last year, dealing not only with mental health incidents, but also with suicides.
Mr Perry said 30,000 calls were received involving both kinds of events, and the 10,000 that did not lead to callouts still took a toll on time and resources.
In some cases, he said, a single individual can account for dozens of the calls made to police.