Small Agency Response to Incidents Involving Persons with Mental Illness or Substance Abuse Issues | National Police Foundation

Small Agency Response to Incidents Involving Persons with Mental Illness or Substance Abuse Issues

Project Summary 

Persistent lack of community-based mental health resources available to people in crisis has resulted in frequent need for police intervention. Law enforcement agencies across the country are turning to Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and other specialized police response models that focus on cross-sector collaboration between law enforcement, mental health agencies, and advocates. While these efforts have proliferated and show promise in meeting goals, they are largely typical of medium and large departments. However, the vast majority of police agencies are small and may not have the resources to fund CIT training, may not have mental health resources close at hand, or receive the numbers of calls involving persons with mental illness or substance abuse issues to justify expensive programs. The National Police Foundation (NPF) is examining the kinds of approaches that small law enforcement agencies are adopting to respond in appropriate ways to persons with behavioral health issues.



Between February and October of 2020, NPF distributed a national survey to a random sample of 380 municipal police and sheriff offices who employed between 10 and 75 sworn officers. The survey aimed to explore the extent to which small law enforcement agencies have adopted specialized response models for dealing with calls involving persons in crisis, the amount of training provided in this area among small agencies, and what percentage of small agencies employ CIT-certified officers or are part of a regional CIT partnership.

The survey finds that all but 12 responding agencies had adopted some form of specialized response model for dealing with calls involving persons in crisis. More than six in 10 agencies had provided some form of crisis response training to all patrol officers, and three in 10 provided training to some patrol officers. Three in 10 agencies had at least one officer in the agency who had been CIT certified and half of the agencies reported being part of a regional CIT partnership. The regional partnerships gave small agencies access to highly skilled law enforcement and mental health staff, but response times could be long, regional skilled staff unavailable at all times of the day, and mental health facilities a lengthy drive away. The death of George Floyd, which occurred during the administration of the survey, encouraged four in 10 survey respondents to reassess their current approach to dealing with persons in crisis.

In addition to this survey, NPF is conducting site-visits with six innovative agencies in order to gather detailed information on their crisis response model and assess the potential for conducting a future impact evaluation. NPF will produce a final report later in 2021 and will disseminate the findings to relevant stakeholders to inform the ongoing development of crisis response preparedness and implementation within small agencies.



The study will be the first look at what small agencies are doing to respond to these sensitive cases. Small agencies face serious challenges of marshalling resources to respond to calls involving persons in crisis due to mental illness or drug abuse. This study will help to identify what those challenges are and how some small agencies have been able to overcome them.



How Small Law Enforcement Agencies Respond to Calls Involving Persons in Crisis: Results from a National Survey


Funding & Collaboration

This study is funded by Arnold Ventures.


Points of Contact

Rob Davis
Chief Social Scientist
National Police Foundation
(202) 721-9782 Ext. 182

Michael Lebron
Research Assistant
National Police Foundation
(202) 384-1379 Ext. 120



Crisis response, small LEAs