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The Essential Elements of PMHC Programs

1. Collaborative Planning and Implementation

Organizations and individuals representing a wide range of disciplines and perspectives and with a strong interest in improving law enforcement encounters with people with mental illnesses work together in one or more groups to determine the response program’s characteristics and guide implementation efforts.

Specialized responses to people with mental illnesses are an outgrowth of community policing and as such should reflect a partnership between a law enforcement agency and other stakeholder groups and individuals. Partners for the lead law enforcement agency should include mental health service providers, people with mental illnesses and their family members and loved ones, and mental health advocates. Based on the nature of the problem, additional partners could include other area law enforcement professionals; health and substance abuse treatment providers; housing officials and other service providers; hospital and emergency room administrators; crime victims; other criminal justice personnel such as prosecutors and jail administrators; elected officials; state, local, and private funders; and community representatives. Any stakeholder may initiate the planning for the specialized response, but to take root, the lead law enforcement agency must fully embrace the effort.

At the outset of the planning process, leaders from each of the stakeholder agencies who have operational decision-making authority and community representatives should come together as a multidisciplinary planning committee. This executive-level committee should examine the nature of the problem and help determine the program’s objectives and design (see Element 2, Program Design), taking into consideration how the committee will relate to other criminal justice–mental health boards that may be in place or are in the process of being established. The planning committee also should provide a forum for developing grant applications and working with local and state officials. Although focused primarily on planning decisions, members should remain engaged during the implementation phase to provide ongoing leadership and support problem solving and design modifications throughout the life of the program.

Agency leaders on the planning committee also should designate appropriate staff to make up a program coordination group responsible for overseeing day-to-day activities. (In some jurisdictions, the two bodies may be the same—particularly those with small agencies, in rural areas, or with limited resources.) This coordination group should oversee officer training, measure the program’s progress toward achieving stated goals, and resolve ongoing challenges to program effectiveness. The group also should serve to keep agency leaders and other policymakers informed of program costs, developments, and progress. Both groups’ members should reflect the community’s demographic composition.

To overcome challenges inherent in multidisciplinary collaboration, including staff turnover and changes in leadership, partnership and program policies should be institutionalized to the extent possible. Interagency memoranda of understanding (MOUs) can be developed to address key issues such as how each organization will commit resources and what information can be shared through identified mechanisms.