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The Essential Elements of PMHC Programs

10. Program Evaluation and Sustainability

Data are collected and analyzed to help demonstrate the impact of and inform modifications to the program. Support for the program is continuously cultivated in the community and the law enforcement agency.

The planning committee should take steps early in the design process to ensure the program’s long-term sustainability. Accordingly, the committee should identify performance measures based on program goals; these measures should consider quantitative data on key aspects of program operation, as well as qualitative data on officers’ and community members’ perceptions of the program. It may be helpful to aggregate baseline data before program implementation for later comparisons with new program information. To the extent possible, existing law enforcement and mental health agency data collection mechanisms should be adapted to accommodate the program’s specific needs; planners may consider engaging a university partner to guide these data collection efforts. The planning committee should work with law enforcement and mental health agencies to ensure that the data are collected accurately and appropriately.

The data law enforcement personnel collect should focus on questions most critical to the program’s success in achieving its goals, including the number of injuries and deaths to officers and civilians; officer response times; the number of incidents to which specially trained officers responded; the number of repeat calls for service; officers’ disposition decisions, such as linking a person with services; and time required and method used for custodial transfer. Data should be used to refine program operations as needed, as well as review individual case outcomes and determine if follow-up by a mental health professional is warranted.

Program leaders should gauge the attitudes of community leaders, the media, key public officials, and other policymakers toward the program. It may be helpful to engage elected officials early in the process and keep them involved—from the initial kickoff through refunding and long-term implementation— to promote sustainability and desired legislation. The committee also should survey officers— both specialized responders and others—so that law enforcement leaders can better assess the program’s usefulness to the entire department and address any concerns. Based on this information, the planning committee should determine the most effective way to promote the program’s positive impact on the community, individuals, and agencies and respond to program shortcomings or high-profile tragic events.

While in-kind contributions from partners can go a long way toward offsetting certain program costs, planners should identify and cultivate long-term funding sources to cover costs that would otherwise fall to the law enforcement agency to absorb. Requests for funding should be based on clearly articulated program goals and, to the extent possible, should incorporate data demonstrating program outcomes.

Departments also should focus on sustaining internal support for the program, such as offering refresher training to help officers refine their skills and expand their knowledge base. To promote longer-term commitments from specialized officers, departments also should provide incentives and other organizational support for serving in the program.