The law enforcement agency’s policies, practices, and culture support the specialized response program and the personnel who further its goals.
Law enforcement leaders who recognize the value of a specialized response program to reduce repeat calls for service and produce better outcomes for people with mental illnesses must create an organizational structure to support it. Leadership cannot be limited to endorsing the program and authorizing staff training. Establishing that the response program is a high priority for the agency is essential and is best demonstrated through visible and practical changes in how the agency partners with the community and realigns internal processes.
Specifically, leaders should embrace new partners and foster a supportive culture through frequent messages about the value of this type of “real” policing work. Communications with officers at every level of the agency should stress the benefits of the response program. Officers should be encouraged to volunteer for the program’s assignments when possible, rather than receive mandatory reassignment. Enlisting the support of supervisors and field training officers is critical to transforming how the program will be viewed by others in the agency. A program “champion” in a position of authority within the agency and with a demonstrated commitment to the specialized program should be identified to serve as the agency’s representative on the coordination group and the program’s representative within the agency.
Leaders should modify officers’ performance evaluations to take into account the initiative’s unique objectives. As a program designed to improve the safety of all those involved in an incident and to reduce the number of people inappropriately taken into custody, success should not be measured by the number of arrests. As with other successful law enforcement problem-solving efforts, personnel performance should be evaluated and rewarded based on officers’ success collaborating with and making referrals to community partners, addressing the underlying causes of calls for service, and taking measures that reduce the need for force.19 The law enforcement agency and planning committee should acknowledge these professionals’ hard work through commendation ceremonies and other forms of recognition.
Agency leaders may need to adjust officers’ schedules, obtain grants, or devote funds to specialized program training, create new positions dedicated to coordinating program activities and recruiting and screening responding officers, and revise deployment strategies to maximize the availability of trained law enforcement responders across shifts and geographic areas. Agencies may find it beneficial to develop a standard operating procedure to enumerate specific processes and roles and responsibilities within the program. In some jurisdictions, these issues will require close cooperation with labor unions.
19. For more information on innovative personnel performance measures for community policing initiatives, see Mary Ann Wycoff and Timothy N. Oettmeier, Evaluating Patrol Officer Performance under Community Policing: The Houston Experience, U.S. Department of Justice (Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, 1993).