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Police Response to Emotionally Disturbed Persons: Analyzing New Models of Police Interactions With the Mental Health System

NCJ Number
Date Published
79 pages
This evaluation of three approaches in the police response to emotionally disturbed persons involved two innovative pre-booking diversion programs and one traditional mobile mental health crisis response team.
Birmingham's Community Service Officer program (Alabama) uses in-house mental health specialists employed by the police department to handle police contacts that involve emotionally disturbed persons. Knoxville's mobile mental health crisis unit (Tennessee) uses community mental health-based crisis teams in coordination with the police department. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (Tennessee) is composed of sworn officers with special training in mental health issues. A primary focus of this study was to examine the extent to which use of a pre-booking diversion program is associated with a "specialized" police response (in contrast to a general dispatcher call) and with reductions in the arrest of people with mental illness. The study was also interested in how police officers perceived the specialized response used by their department, as well as in what factors might be associated with their differential effectiveness ratings. Based on how the two pre-booking programs and the traditional mobile mental health crisis team performed and were viewed by police officers in the three cities, there is reason to believe that specialized programs can improve outcomes for mentally ill people in crisis. Particularly, these programs hold promise for diverting mentally ill people from jail, keeping them in the community, and facilitating access to treatment. 11 exhibits, 33 references, and appended study instruments

Date Published: January 1, 1997