In recent years, there have been growing calls to reimagine public safety related to how communities respond to crisis incidents. Law enforcement officers have historically been the first responders to people in crisis. This approach has presented several challenges, including the potential for increased involvement with the criminal justice system and the potential for these interactions to escalate to the point of police use of force.

Research suggests approximately 25% of people living with a mental health condition have been arrested by the police at some point in their life[i] and national statistics show that people living with mental health conditions are over-represented in jails and prisons.[ii] To address these challenges, law enforcement agencies are increasingly partnering with the behavioral health community to enhance their crisis response efforts.


Police Mental Health Collaboration Programs

Law enforcement officers are routinely first responders to people experiencing crises in their community. In this context, a crisis is an emotionally stressful event and/or traumatic experience in which a person’s natural coping skills are ineffective.[iii] Crises can be influenced by many factors, including mental health conditions, substance use, intellectual and developmental disabilities, and situational stress. Law enforcement responses to individuals in crisis can be time-consuming and present significant challenges for officers. Given the nature of these interactions, safe and effective responses require specialized training, tailored policies, and strategic partnerships.

Many communities have been exploring alternatives to traditional law enforcement strategies to enhance responses to people in crisis. Substantial innovation related to crisis response has occurred with the implementation of law enforcement-mental health collaboration programs and community responder programs. Several crisis response models have been implemented across communities, and significant variation exists in how communities adapt a model to fit their needs.[iv]

"A PMHC is a law enforcement-based program that enables officers to respond appropriately and safely to people with mental illness. Effective PMHC programs are defined by collaborative partnerships with law enforcement agencies, mental health and [intellectual and developmental disabilities] I/DD providers, and other community-based entities. PMHC programs allow officers to be safer, reduce repeat calls for service, minimize the strain on agency resources, and connect people with mental illness and I/DD to services."[v]

This toolkit presents the elements of PMHC programs for effective crisis response. Within each element, research, best practices, and resources are shared to support law enforcement agencies and communities in enhancing their crisis response efforts.

Responses to People with Mental Health Conditions

Training on Crisis Response

Resources Related to Mental Health and Crisis Response

Visit the Knowledge Lab’s full resource index here.

  • Reset

Guidebook/Tool | 2024

Preparing Law Enforcement Agencies for Embedded Clinicians

  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Report | 2023

Dispatching Community Responders to 911 Calls

  • Crime and Violence Response
  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Guidebook/Tool | 2023

911 Dispatch Call Processing Protocols: Key Tools for Coordinating Effective Call Triage

  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Guidebook/Tool, Webpage | 2023

Community-Driven Crisis Response: A Workbook for Coordinators

  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Guidebook/Tool | 2023

Law Enforcement Response to People with Developmental Disabilities: Steps for Deflection or Pre-Arrest Diversion

  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Guidebook/Tool | 2023

Rethinking the Police Response to Mental Health-Related Calls: Promising Models

  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response

Report | 2023

Evaluating the Utility of Sobering Centers: Analyses of Police and Sobering Centers Across Five Jurisdictions

  • Crime and Violence Response
  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response
  • Stops, Searches, and Arrests

Guidebook/Tool, Report, Research Brief | 2023

Assessing the Impact of Crisis Intervention Teams

  • Community Trust and Partnerships
  • Mental Health and Crisis Response
  • Use of Force

Resource Hubs

The following webpages contain additional resources on mental health and crisis response.

  • Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Police-Mental Health Collaboration (PMHC) Toolkit

    The PMHC Toolkit provides resources for law enforcement agencies to partner with service providers, advocates, and individuals with mental illness and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). The goal of these partnerships is to ensure the safety of all, to respond effectively, and to improve access to services and supports for people with mental illness and IDD.

  • Academic Training to Inform Police Responses

    Led by the University of Cincinnati with the support of BJA, the Academic Training Initiative brings together experts in law enforcement, behavioral health, disabilities, curriculum development, and evaluation to raise awareness in the law enforcement community about the nature and needs of persons with behavioral health (BH) conditions and intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) to facilitate the use of evidence-informed and best practices in crisis response.

    In addition to products developed under the Academic Training Initiative, the website includes a comprehensive Resource Library with various resources that are designed to support law enforcement agencies and their community partners in the development and implementation of crisis response programs.

  • BJA Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program

    From first contact to reentry, the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program (JMHCP) supports criminal justice and behavioral health systems across the country as they safely divert people from the justice system and increase access to mental health treatment, innovative crisis services, housing supports, and more.

  • The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center

    The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center is a national, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that combines the power of a membership association, representing state officials in all three branches of government, with policy and research expertise to develop strategies that increase public safety and strengthen communities.

  • The CSG Justice Center’s Expanding First Response: A Toolkit for Community Responder Programs

    This toolkit serves as a central hub for local communities and states looking to establish or strengthen community responder programs. Drawing on the experience of emerging models across the country, the toolkit presents key issues that are crucial to the success of any program. These resources can help jurisdictions reimagine public safety and focus on expanding first response efforts for improving health outcomes, strengthening connections to services, and reducing unnecessary police involvement.

  • The Arc of the United States

    The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD®) serves as a bridge between the criminal justice and disability communities. NCCJD pursues and promotes safety, fairness, and justice for people with IDD, especially those with hidden disabilities and marginalized identities, as victims, witnesses, suspects, defendants, and incarcerated persons.

  • National League of Cities: Addressing Mental Health, Substance Use and Homelessness

    The broad goal of this project is to provide a resource to help city leaders implement effective strategies for emergency response and crisis stabilization for individuals experiencing mental illness, substance use disorder and/or homelessness. City leaders may adapt the strategies to address specific challenges related to these areas. Using a grant from Arnold Ventures, NLC worked to examine established city strategies and work directly with select cities to research, test and implement improvements.

  • The University of Chicago Health Lab Transform911

    Transform911 seeks to evaluate the evidence base surrounding the current 911 system, identify its limitations, and search for opportunities to innovate alternative approaches. The project will convene a wide array of experts and community stakeholders, resulting in evidence-informed and actionable proposals and recommendations. Ultimately, the project will develop policy recommendations for local, state, and federal lawmakers and create blueprints to initiate systemic change of the nation’s emergency response system.

    Transform911’s website will be a dynamic online hub for 911-related innovations, research, and opportunities.

Recommendations from Civil-Rights Litigations

To learn about how Civil Rights Litigation has touched upon mental health and crisis response, explore the modules below. The information provided within these modules has been gathered from various consent decrees, settlement agreements, and assistance letters. The modules are intended to support agencies in improving their Constitutional policing practices. Additional information and resources may be needed to implement the recommendations successfully. To learn more about civil rights litigation, visit the Knowledge Lab’s Federal Interventions Dashboard.

Diversion Programs & Alternative Responses

Crisis Intervention Teams

Data Collection and Analysis

Advisory Committees

Additional Considerations

The information provided within these modules has been gathered from various sources, including consent decrees, research, and practitioner and department-developed resources. These webpage modules are intended to be a guide for departments to use to improve their Constitutional policing practices. Additional information and resources may be needed to implement the recommendations successfully. This resource is intended to be dynamic, and the Knowledge Lab will continue to update and add to these modules to provide additional and current guidance for departments.

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