The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Law Enforcement and Mental Health Efforts: A Vital Strategy to Protect Our Communities

Law Enforcement In the wake of violence committed by those with mental illnesses, proper response has proven vital in saving lives and protecting law enforcement officers. The Council of State Governments Justice Center has prepared a report which discusses the way individual states across the country are now forming policies and community organizations which are designed to effectively respond to people with mental illnesses. Resources often come from local and state agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations involved in mental health issues. Across the nation, it has become increasingly important for law enforcement agencies to approach those with mental illnesses from the standpoint of treatment rather than incarceration. In Memphis, TN, officers are "trained to identify signs and symptoms of mental illness, de-escalate any situation involving an individual who appears to have a mental illness, and to connect that person in crisis to treatment." This specialized policing response (SPR) is executed by Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs). In California, SPRs come in the form of co-responder teams in which mental health professionals pair up with officers. When used effectively, these teams have proven to decrease officer injures and usually end with a person in need receiving mental health treatment. These programs have been seen as especially important in the wake of recent violent tragedies in which mental health might have played a key role, including the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. As a response, President Obama has spoken of the need for improved access to mental healthcare and has proposed legislation to fund various mental health initiatives.