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Police Perspectives on Responding to Mentally Ill People in Crisis: Perceptions of Program Effectiveness

NCJ Number
Behavioral Sciences and the Law Volume: 16 Issue: 4 Dated: Autumn 1998 Pages: 393-405
Date Published
13 pages

This study sampled 452 sworn police officers from three law enforcement agencies in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee, each of which has a different system for responding to mentally ill people in crisis.


In Birmingham, incidents are handled by in-house mental health specialists employed by the police department. Knoxville has a mobile mental health crisis unit and incidents are handled by community mental health crisis teams in coordination with the police department. The Memphis crisis intervention team includes sworn police officers with special training in mental health issues. Police officer perceptions about handling incidents indicated cases involving mentally ill people in crisis appeared to be frequent and posed a significant problem for the police department. Most police officers, however, reported feeling adequately prepared to handle the cases. Generally, police officers from the jurisdiction with a specialized team of police officers rated their program as being highly effective in meeting the needs of mentally ill people in crisis, keeping mentally ill people out of jail, minimizing the amount of time police officers spent on calls, and maintaining community safety. Police officers from police departments relying on a mobile crisis unit and on police-based social workers both rated their programs as being moderately effective. 25 references and 3 tables

Date Published: January 1, 1998