Background

Calls for service involving people with mental illness can be among the most time-consuming and complex types of calls for law enforcement agencies. Police officers are often the first responders to mental health calls, which may require more resources than other calls for service. These calls also necessitate increased awareness of the safety of both responders and people in crisis. To improve the outcomes of interactions between police and people with mental illness, many law enforcement agencies have adopted Police-Mental Health Collaboration (PMHC) programs, which are collaborative partnerships among law enforcement agencies, mental health providers, and community-based organizations. By adopting a PMHC program, law enforcement agencies can respond to calls for service safely and effectively and connect people with mental health service providers. To help jurisdictions design and implement PMHC programs, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) compiled promising practices and resources into a one-stop online toolkit. While many of these resources are publicly available across various platforms, BJA’s Police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit represents the first centralized repository of PMHC-related information.

Enabling Local Law Enforcement Agencies to Meet Community Needs

In the toolkit, law enforcement agencies can find resources on topics ranging from the different PMHC models, such as crisis intervention teams (CIT) or case management teams, to the types of training available to officers, such as “Mental Health First Aid for Public Safety” courses. The toolkit is currently organized into five primary sections to assist law enforcement agencies:

  • Learning: Gain an understanding of what PMHC programs are, as well as the benefits, types, and essential elements of these programs.
  • Planning and Implementing: Learn about the importance of including leadership and stakeholders into program design and implementation and read through different agencies’ experiences.
  • Training: Find information on training curricula available to law enforcement agencies regarding both general mental health and PMHC programs.
  • Managing: Learn about the types of policies and procedures, agency and stakeholder functions, and partnership agreements that contribute to a successful PMHC program.
  • Measuring Performance: Review frequently used performance measures – such as number of officers trained or duration of calls for service – agencies can use to evaluate PMHC programs.

The diversity of information, tools, and promising practices located within the toolkit highlights a key aspect of PMHC programs: Each community has its own unique needs and characteristics, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to designing and implementing a PMHC program. With that in mind, BJA built the toolkit to contain not only basic information about PMHC programs – such as call-taker and dispatcher protocols or examples of treatment services – but also numerous case studies and agencies’ experiences from cities and towns across the United States. This breadth of information enables agencies to explore how other departments have crafted successful PMHC programs, from the Memphis, Tennessee Police Department’s (PD) CIT program to San Antonio, Texas PD’s jail diversion program located at the Center for Health Care Service’s Restoration Center. The PMHC Toolkit is also available on mobile devices; it is an interoperable resource that is meant to be used by officers in the field to ensure they are responding safely and appropriately to calls for service involving people in crisis.

The PMHC Toolkit is a joint effort between BJA and the Council for State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, which provides technical assistance to improve criminal justice and mental health responses to people who have a mental illness and are involved in the criminal justice system. The CSG Justice Center supports six national law enforcement/mental health learning sites, which other jurisdictions may visit for diverse perspectives and best practices for designing and implementing PMHC programs. These sites are the Houston, Texas Police PD; Los Angeles, California PD; Madison, Wisconsin PD; Portland, Maine PD; Salt Lake City, Utah PD; and University of Florida PD.

Expanding the Reach of PMHC Resources

Although the PMHC Toolkit currently focuses on the law enforcement perspective of PMHC programs, BJA consistently examines other resources to compile, organize, and add to the website. The intent is for the toolkit to evolve into a clearinghouse of topics, tools, and resources from all three of the entities involved in PMHC programs: law enforcement agencies, mental health service providers, and people with mental illness who require compassionate care from trained officers and mental health service providers.

In 2018, BJA plans to add new modules to the toolkit that will cover the behavioral health perspective, and in the future, include resources from the consumer (i.e., people with mental illness) perspective. As a result, the PMHC Toolkit will be a comprehensive, user-friendly site with effective, data-driven best practices available to the approximately 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States. Additionally, BJA recently partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice through a competitive solicitation process to launch the new National Training and Technical Assistance Center to Improve Police-based Responses to People with Mental Health Disorders and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which will provide training and technical assistance (TTA) to state, local, and tribal governments across the nation and enhance PMHC programs. The expansion of the toolkit and TTA program from six learning sites to jurisdictions nationwide further enables law enforcement agencies to reduce costs, improve safety through de-escalation, and increase access to behavioral healthcare for people in crisis, which will further decrease these individuals’ contact with the criminal justice system. 

For questions about the PMHC Toolkit, contact AskPMHC@usdoj.gov.

To submit the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future BJA National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC) TTA Spotlight, please email nttac@bjatraining.org.

If your agency or community is interested in data collection and corrections or would like to apply for technical assistance, please contact BJA NTTAC at nttac@bjatraining.org to discuss your unique criminal justice needs.