National Police Foundation to conduct new research study examining crisis intervention response models within small law enforcement agencies

MARCH 2020—The National Police Foundation, with funding support from Arnold Ventures, will conduct a new research study that will examine how small law enforcement agencies (10-70 sworn) respond to incidents involving persons with mental illness or substance abuse issues.

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 Training (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, nor receive the numbers of calls involving persons with mental illness or substance abuse issues to justify expensive programs.

The National Police Foundation will examine the kinds of approaches that small law enforcement agencies are adopting to respond in appropriate ways to persons with behavioral health issues. The study is designed to answer three questions:

  • What types of crisis response models are being employed by smaller law enforcement agencies and which are most common?
  • How many smaller agencies are participating in regional crisis response models? What do these regional responses consist of? What are the benefits and drawbacks to a regional model?
  • What kinds of data systems do smaller agencies have for tracking locations, individuals, and outcomes of behavioral health incidents? What shortcomings would need to be addressed in order to conduct a rigorous evaluation in these small communities?

A nationally representative survey will provide detailed descriptions of innovative approaches that small agencies are using. The survey will query agencies about types of program models used (if any) for crisis response; participation in a regional planning or response program; barriers to developing or implementing crisis response programs; evidence for program success, and types of data captured by police dispatch, hospital, mental health, and court systems to document (a) numbers and types of behavioral health cases; (b) common locations from which .

Based off survey responses, the National Police Foundation will also visit six innovative sites in order to gather information to describe the state of data collection systems that would inform a future evaluation of the crisis response programs. The case studies will involve visits to each site with the purpose of specifying program components and determining suitability of data in law enforcement, hospital, and mental health organization databases for a robust evaluation. The site visits would also document program obstacles and successes.

Study findings will inform the field about the state of crisis response programs in small agencies and the kinds of approaches they are experimenting with.

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