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Police Handling of the Mentally Ill: Sharing Responsibility with the Mental Health System

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1989
15 pages
The public repeatedly calls on law enforcement officers for emergency assistance with the mentally ill because police officers and deputy sheriffs provide free, around-the-clock service and are required to respond.
However, law enforcement agencies are typically ill equipped to handle this population. On the one hand, arrest is usually an inappropriate disposition. On the other hand, mental health facilities frequently refuse to accept police referrals due to lack of bed space. As a result, police often lose substantial time and experience considerable frustration trying to resolve incidents involving this population. In a few communities, however, law enforcement agencies and the social service system have developed formal arrangements to coordinate responsibility for handling the mentally ill. These networks relieve police officers and deputy sheriffs of handling individuals whose problems are primarily psychiatric; however, when dealing with cases that do require law enforcement intervention, officers can get quick assistance from the appropriate human service provider. Each mental health facility, in turn, can expect law enforcement officers to refer only those types of mentally ill persons whom the staff are qualified to assist; at the same time, facility staff can obtain prompt help from officer in emergencies involving dangerous clients. At the least, the mentally ill benefit by avoiding unnecessary involvement with the criminal justice system; at best, they receive assistance from mental health professionals to begin to solve their problems. Acknowledgement, notes, references. (Author abstract)

Date Published: January 1, 1989