|By Kelli South of Treatment Advocacy Center|
Co-response teams involving both police officers and mental health providers are becoming more widely used for response to crisis calls involving people with mental illnesses. As these programs grow in popularity across the United States, there is not yet a large amount of research available proving the efficacy of such crisis response models.
A new study published in Psychiatric Services examined the effects of a co-response team on mental health and criminal justice outcomes for individuals compared to those who only received a response from the police. The study found that the presence of a co-response team reduced the likelihood of arrest at the crisis incident but resulted in a higher likelihood of future involvement with emergency medical services in the following year.
This study took advantage of a five-month pilot program for a co-response team in one police department in Indianapolis. The researchers compared 313 individuals who received the co-response team for their mental health crisis call to 315 similar individuals in another Indianapolis police department who had the usual police response to their crisis calls.
The co-response team consisted of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)-trained police officer, a mental health clinician and a paramedic. CIT officers are police officers that receive more than 40 hours of specialized training in responding to individuals in mental health crisis, including how to recognize different mental health crises and responding with de-escalation strategies. The co-response team responded to 911 calls that came in over the police dispatch involving individuals with suspected mental health or substance use issues.
The results showed that individuals who received the co-response team were less likely to be booked into jail immediately following the crisis incident than those who received the standard police response. When looking at longer term outcomes, the results indicated that those who received the co-response model were more likely to have contact with emergency medical services within a year after the crisis incident.
Interestingly, while the overall results showed no long-term effect of the co-response team on arrest rates in the year following the crisis, further analysis showed that Black participants who received the co-response model were less likely to be arrested within the year after the crisis than those who only received a police response.
The findings from this study suggest that a co-response team could lead to a lower chance of an individual entering into the criminal justice system during a crisis call with police, which has major implications for reducing the criminalization of mental illness if alternatives to police response for people with serious mental illness continues to spread throughout the United States. Reducing the number of people with mental illness in jail would help get people out of the revolving door of incarceration and instead promote the receipt of the proper medical care that they require.
The findings also suggest that individuals in crisis who received a co-response team rather than police had a higher use of emergency services in the year following the incident. The researchers do not have a definitive reason for why emergency service use increased but posit that it may be because the individuals had a positive experience with the co-response team, leading them to use more crisis services as a result.
The initial implication that co-response teams may specifically reduce the likelihood of arrest for Black people in the long-term is a very important finding. Since Black people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, any response model that reduces this involvement is certainly an area where more research should be conducted in the future.
Bailey, K., Lowder, E., Grommon, E., et al. (August 2021). Evaluation of a police–mental health co-response team relative to traditional police response in Indianapolis. Psychiatric Services.
|Kelli South is the research associate at the Treatment Advocacy Center.|