Nationally, people experiencing a mental health crisis are more likely to encounter law enforcement than medical assistance. What is less common is that law enforcement officers across the country, particularly in small or rural jurisdictions, have access to partnerships and resources that are better equipped to handle such crises and can offer alternatives to arrest.
People with mental illness are not more likely than anyone else to commit violent acts. In fact, it is 10 times more likely that those with severe mental illness will be victims of a violent crime than the general population.
However, bystanders frequently call 911 when a person near them experiences a mental health crisis, making it much more likely that a person in crisis will encounter law enforcement officers than mental health professionals.
Because of this, law enforcement agencies and state lawmakers have been working to create alternative responses and improve law enforcement responses and training. Recent legislation has required or funded Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, authorized and funded crisis triage centers, and otherwise supported law enforcement efforts to deflect individuals with mental health needs away from becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
Local innovation based on the needs of individual communities has also resulted in a variety of police-mental health collaboration programs, including some of the following:
Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT):
CITs are composed of experienced law enforcement officers who volunteer to receive specialized training to respond to mental health calls. These officers are then dispatched to mental health calls or assist other law enforcement officers who are not CIT-trained.
Trained law enforcement officers and mental health professionals who respond to mental health calls as a team and generally work together for an entire shift, riding in the same car.
Mobile Crisis Teams:
Mental health professionals working as a team with specialized training to help stabilize individuals during law enforcement encounters and during crisis situations. Teams can respond to law enforcement or mental health calls.
Case Management Teams:
Behavioral health professionals, law enforcement officers, peers and others that form a team to coordinate care and develop collaborative solutions to reduce repeat interactions with individuals.
Crisis Stabilization Centers:
Facilities where law enforcement can take individuals experiencing mental health crisis that serve as alternatives to jail and emergency departments.
Examples and outcomes of each of these programs can be found here. Strategies for state policymakers to support police-mental health collaborations have been outlined by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Council of State Governments Justice Center here.
Additional resources on police-mental health collaborations