Specialized law enforcement-based response programs connect individuals with mental illnesses to comprehensive and effective community-based treatment, supports, and services.
Law enforcement officers often are called to respond to incidents that are the manifestation of an untreated or inadequately treated mental illness. Specialized law enforcement-based responses provide an opportunity to link these individuals to community mental health supports and services that promote long-term wellness and reduce the chance of future negative encounters with officers.
When law enforcement responders bring individuals who are not under arrest to licensed mental health professionals at a receiving facility, staff there should be qualified to conduct a mental health evaluation; assess the contributions of mental illness, substance abuse, and other medical conditions to current behavior; and manage crisis situations. With their knowledge of available community-based treatment resources, mental health professionals can then link the individual to needed supports and services.
Individuals with mental illnesses often require an array of services and supports, which can include medications, counseling, substance abuse treatment, income supports and government entitlements, housing, crisis services, peer supports, case management, and inpatient treatment. Planners of the specialized response program should anticipate the treatment needs of the individuals with whom law enforcement will come in contact and work with service providers in the community to better ensure these needs can be met and coordinated.
Because many individuals with mental illnesses who come into contact with law enforcement have co-occurring substance use disorders, follow-up services will be most effective when delivered by providers with the capacity to integrate treatment approaches. Accordingly, the planning committee should consider how the program can help connect individuals with co-occurring disorders to integrated treatment and should advocate for greater access to this and other evidence-based practices.18 Planners should pay special attention to the service needs of racial and ethnic minorities and women by making culturally competent and gender-sensitive services available to the extent possible.
18. For our purposes here, evidence-based practices (EBPs) refer to mental health service interventions for which consistent scientific evidence demonstrates their ability to improve consumer outcomes. R.E. Drake, H.H. Goldman, H.S. Leff, A.F. Lehman, L.Dixon, K.T. Mueser, and W.C. Torrey, “Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Routine Mental Health Service Settings,” Psychiatric Services 52 (2001): 179–182. Other EBPs include assertive community treatment, psychotropic medications, supported employment, family psychoeducation, and illness self-management. For more information on the application of EBPs in forensic settings, see materials produced by the National GAINS Center at www.samhsa.gov/gains-center.