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Improving Responses to People With Mental Illnesses: The Essential Elements of a Specialized Law Enforcement–Based Program

NCJ Number
Matt Schwarzfeld; Melissa Reuland; Martha Plotkin
Date Published
August 2008
26 pages
Based on recommendations from a broad range of practitioners and other experts in mental disorders and police responses to persons with mental disorders, this document discusses 10 essential elements of any specialized law enforcement response to mentally ill individuals.
These elements provide practitioners and policymakers with a common framework for program design and implementation that promotes positive outcomes while being sensitive to a jurisdiction’s distinctive needs and resources. One element involves collaborative planning and implementation as organizations and individuals from a wide range of disciplines cooperate in determining the program‘s characteristics and implementation. A second element pertains to a program design that addresses the root causes of problems that impede improved law-enforcement responses to people with mental illness. A third element involves specialized training for all law enforcement personnel involved in responding to incidents that may involve individuals with mental illness. The training should be tailored to the specific job tasks of agency personnel. A fourth element pertains to call-takers and dispatcher protocols, which involve obtaining critical information needed to direct calls to the appropriate responders when a person with mental illness may be involved in the call. A fifth element involves stabilization, observation, and disposition by specialized law enforcement responders familiar with relevant laws and available resources that determine constructive dispositions by responding officers. A sixth element concerns the safe and sensitive transportation and custodial transfer of a person with mental illness. A seventh element is a well-designed procedure for the release and exchange of information between law enforcement and mental health personnel; and an eighth element pertains to the linking of mentally ill individuals to comprehensive and effective community-based treatment, supports, and services. The remaining two elements involve organizational support and program evaluation/sustainability.