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Policing Soc. 2017;27:289-299. doi: 10.1080/10439463.2016.1219734. Epub 2016 Aug 11.

Improving police interventions during mental health-related encounters: Past, present and future.

Author information

1
Department of Criminal Justice and Centre for Security and Crime Science, Temple University, Philadelphia, P.A., USA.
2
Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.

Abstract

There are calls across America for police to re-imagine themselves as "guardians" rather than "warriors" in the performance of their innumerable duties. The contentious history of police attitudes and practices surrounding encounters with people affected by mental illnesses can be understood through the lens of this wider push toward guardianship. At least as far back as the de-institutionalization of mental health care and the profound lack of community-based resources to fill service deficits, the role of police as mental health interventionists has been controversial and complex. This paper reviews the first wave of reform efforts designed to re-shape police sensibilities and practices in the handling of mental health-related encounters. We argue that such efforts, centred on specialized training and cooperative agreements with the health care sector, have advanced a guardian mindset through improved knowledge and attitudes about mental health vulnerabilities and needs. Building on the progress made, we suggest there are critical opportunities for a new wave of efforts that can further advance the guardianship agenda. We highlight three such opportunities: (1) Enhancing experiences of procedural justice during mental health-related encounters; (2) Building the evidence base through integrated data sets; and (3) Balancing a "case-based" focus with a "place-based" focus.

KEYWORDS:

Crisis Intervention Training; law enforcement; mental health; mental illness; policing; public health; reform

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