How Should Law Enforcement Respond to People with Mental Illness?
Date:  01-08-2013

New report offers strategies for local police
The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center announced the issuance of a new report, Statewide Law Enforcement/Mental Health Efforts: Strategies to Support and Sustain Local Initiatives. The report, according to Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, “…is a much-needed resource for anyone interested in seeing consistently high-quality law enforcement/mental health programs created, enhanced, and sustained across entire states.”

The report focuses on the successful utilization of specialized policing responses (SPRs), for those presenting symptoms of mental illness. Local law enforcement officers using SPRs can link those with a mental health crisis with support services for treatment or other necessary aid, and can help keep them out of jail, where treatment is more limited, if at all available.

CSG’s media release states that Statewide Law Enforcement/Mental Health Efforts, “focuses on Connecticut, Ohio, and Utah, which represent three differently structured initiatives with extensive experience with SPRs. It also includes program examples from other states with established initiatives, such as Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, and Maine. Mike Lawlor, Connecticut’s Under Secretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning and Justice Center Board member was quoted by CSG as claiming, “This report reflects the reality that to significantly increase the number and quality of SPR programs in the nation some states may need to shift from a one-jurisdiction-at-a-time approach to a more structured and coordinated statewide effort. The report recognizes that states are able to successfully incubate and support collaborative mental health/law enforcement responses that align with evidence-based practices and can be tailored to distinct jurisdictional needs.”

“The report is intended to offer a starting point for policymakers, practitioners, and others interested in planning or enhancing a statewide initiative,” according to CSG, and includes the following highlights:

  • leadership (the strengths and weaknesses of advocacy-, law enforcement- or mental health-led efforts)

  • staffing (the use of full-time, part-time, and in-kind personnel resources)

  • partnerships (family, consumer, university and cross-disciplinary linkages)

  • agency recruitment (regionalized or centralized network models created to unite active SPR jurisdictions and to encourage the creation of new programs)

  • fidelity to the core elements of evidence-based mental health/law enforcement responses (oversight that results in effective collaborations, consistent training on essential topics across jurisdictions, and clearly articulated policies for crisis intervention or co-response teams)

  • sustainability (expertise-sharing, staff turnover planning, government official engagement, and evaluations)
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