Faculty Articles

Law enforcement response to the mentally ill: An evaluative review

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Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention



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Rarely does a police officer list providing services to the mentally ill as a reason for becoming a law enforcement professional. However, a review of case records illustrates the frustrating, and often tragic, outcome of police service calls for "mental disturbance." A closer examination of these cases demonstrates the reality that police are usually the initial contact into both the criminal justice and the social service systems for mentally ill persons. Unfortunately, there exists a disconnect in the process from the first police contact to the next level of appropriate care due largely to a lack of proper training, resources, and collaborative community support. The purpose of this paper is to provide an overview of the research and public policy on law enforcement response to the mentally ill. An evaluative review of investigative efforts in this area reveals methodological shortcomings in the extant research which (a) prevent definitive conclusions regarding efficacy of police interventions (e.g., Memphis Crisis Model), (b) have significant implications for the development of policy, standard operating procedures, and training of law enforcement personnel, and (c) are potentially relevant to the safety of mentally ill persons who, as subjects or suspects, also become potential victims. Suggestions for directions that future research on policing and the mentally ill might take are offered.

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