Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2022, $1,483,000)
There have been several tragic incidents in the past few years involving police encountering individuals in mental health crisis. Enhancing community and law enforcement agencies’ capacities in responding to individuals with mental health issues is crucial. The proposed initiative, “Coalition to Enhance the Capacity of Policing Mental Health Problems in Virginia,” aims at increasing law enforcement’s capacity in addressing mental health issues by partnering with local communities. George Mason University (GMU) will work closely along with Prince William County Police Department (PWCPD), Roanoke County Police Department (RCPD), and Roanoke (City) Police Department (RPD).
The goals of this initiative are to divert individuals with mental health disorders from criminal justice contacts and better prepare officers responding to mental health related crisis. To achieve these goals, the initiative focuses on strengthening community’s mental health response capacity through providing officers with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and behavioral health trainings; building a preventative, community-oriented co-responder model consisting of crisis clinicians and officers to better respond to mental health related crisis; and providing officers well-being checkups to screen for potential mental health issues for early interventions.
The proposed two-year project involves a 6-month planning phase during which GMU will work with PWCPD, RCPD, and RPD to analyze the mental health related incidents trends and the needs of each location; a 21-month implementation phase during which officers from PWCPD will receive CIT training while officers from RCPD and RPD will receive mental health wellness checks and GMU will collect data; and a 3-month analysis phase during which GMU will analyze measures of effectiveness.
The proposed programs are expected to reduce police contacts of individuals with mental health disorders; increase frequency of diversion to community-based services; increase the number of officers that are CIT trained; provide annual mental health wellbeing checks for officers; and decrease use of force in incidents and arrests/detentions related to people with mental health disorders.
This initiative will directly benefit taxpayers in Virginia. While Prince William County and Roanoke City is more suburban, Roanoke County represents a more rural environment. Since a great majority of areas in Virginia are similar to the demographic make-up of these two counties, the lessons learned in this program could have great implications for other agencies. The coalition will not only help strengthen each communities’ capability to respond to mental health related crisis, but it will also help promote collaboration across communities to share knowledge and resources.
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