Policing and Mental Health


Write a paper in which you select a police department with a special unit dedicated to mental health issues and analyze the components of the unit.Answer the following questions:
?When and why was the unit created?
?What is the unit’s impact on the community?
?What options do the police have for containment of a person they have contact with?
?What laws affect, positively or negatively, the unit’s work?
?At what point might a human services worker or team enter the process?

Sample paper

Policing and Mental Health

The integration of mental health programs in the criminal justice system is a major development that helps in taking care of offenders’ welfare. Mental illnesses and mental disorders are so common and can trigger criminal behavior. Disturbed offenders and those showing signs and symptoms of mental health issues should have access to the appropriate psychiatric care and services.  There are several factors that influence the management of mentally ill offenders. These include a psychiatric past, past diagnosis or any history in the criminal justice system. These are some of the things that the police mental health units should consider when seeking treatment for the offenders.

When and why was the unit created?

The Los Angeles Police Department started the Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) over forty years ago. The unit was started with the aim of helping police officers to manage issues related to offenders’ mental health crisis. The department has the largest mental health programs in the United States. In 1993, it became the first department to develop a mental health policing co- responder teams known as Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART).  The department supports the program together with the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health (LACDMH) which is also the largest of its kind nationwide. The programs was started to help mentally ill persons to get treatment (Walker, 2015).

In 2005, a follow up team known as Case Assessment Management Program (CAMP) was integrated into the Mental Evaluation Unit for follow up investigation services. The major function of this team is to identify mentally disturbed persons, those who regularly use fire emergency and police services and those who are at risk of violent encounters such as suicide jumpers. These persons are monitored, engaged before a case management approach is constructed and they are finally linked to the services they need. In 2006, the police department conducted training to the Introduction to Mental Health, a 24 hour session where more than 800 officers were trained. This was to acquit the officers with basic mental health knowledge in order to enable them to identify mental health cases and enhance the effectiveness of the program. The CAMP takes care of an average of 20 cases every week and is increasing its caseload every day. In addition to this, the CAMP pairs up police officers and mental health specialists, nurses and other social workers from other similar programs to find long term solutions that are specific to the needs of an individual. The LAPD also has a help desk that operates for 24 hours 7 days a week whose main function is to have the contacts of all departments that cater for mental health persons.

The MEU- Triage Desk also advices and guides police officers in the field all keeps the contacts of departments focusing on mental health patients ad gives a Mental Evaluation Incident Report. The reports and databases are kept separately from the crime analysis databases and cannot be accessed from the outside in order to protect and maintain the privacy of contacted individuals.  The desk has a police officer and a nurse who helps in identifying psychiatrists and treatment centers from the LACDMH database.  The triage staff makes the final decision on whether to a SMART unit should be dispatched or the patrol officers should take the person directly to the treatment facility. If a person has contacted the police department severally or portrays risky behavior, the case is directed to the CAMP for a more comprehensive and intensive approach.

In 2014, the department conducted some reviews to its training program and acquired a new design. By the end of that year, a new training program known as Mental Health Intervention Training (MHIT) was presented. This is a 40 hour training session taken 25 times yearly that is delivered to first responders/ officers who have the greatest chances of encountering with mental health victims in line of their work. In 2015, the department together with LACDMH developed and extension plan to increase the number of SMART units. This expansion was completed in August 2016.

What is the unit’s impact on the community?

The MEU has played a major role in rehabilitating mentally ill offenders.  The following are the major goals of the unit.

  • Stop incarceration and hospitalization of individuals with mental illnesses
  • Provide comprehensive and intensive care to the patients by providing restrictive environment that suits them.
  • Prevent any possible duplication of mental health services.
  • Ensure efficiency by ensuring the patrol officers return to their activities as soon as possible.

The unit has achieved remarkable success in meeting its objectives.  Being the biggest of its kind in the country, the unit has 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health specialists. These staff members work together to ensure that the officers in the field can stop victims who pose danger to themselves and other people. It is mandatory for patrol officers to call the triage desk before approaching an offender who seems to have a mental illness.  According to Lt. Lionel Garcia, former head of the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit, the triage desk recorded a total of 14,000 calls from the patrol officers in 2014. For these cases, only 2.8 percent required the use of force.  In some other places where such programs are not implemented these numbers can be as high as 50 percent. In addition to this, 81 percent of the 14,000 calls came from the households while the remaining 19 percent were indigent cases (O’Neill, 2015). The unit has achieved a huge milestone in ensuring that offenders with mental illnesses and disorders are not taken to jail but instead they receive treatment. This has also ensured that public safety is not compromised.

What options do the police have for containment of a person they have contact with?

When a patrol officer identifies someone who is likely to have a mental problem, they are supposed to contact the triage desk to receive instructions on what to do next.  From the LACDMH database, the triage officer identifies the appropriate case managers, treatment centers or mental health specialists. With this information, the triage officer determines if a SMART unit should be dispatched or whether the police officer should take the patient directly to the treatment facility (The Stepping Up Initiative, 2016).

What laws affect, positively or negatively, the unit’s work?

It is estimated that over 30 percent of the homeless persons in Los Angeles have some form of mental disorders. There are countless barriers that hinder the mentally ill people from accessing housing facilities. The California state has a law known as the Laura’s Law that offers mental health services to individual who meet the legal criteria to show that they are not capable of getting the services on their own.  This law was passed in 2002 and each county in California was required to implement such a program. The Mental Evaluation Unit is in line with the Laura Law.

At what point, might a human services worker or team enter the process?

The Mental Evaluation Unit works with a team of mental health specialists and sworn officers. The unit recruits social workers when they increase the SMART units. These workers are supposed to have expertise in dealing with mental health patients. The department has been expanding in order to make sure that their services are available in every corner of Los Angeles. In this regard, they recruit qualified social workers to join their teams.


O’Neill, S. (2015). LA Police Unit Intervenes To Get Mentally Ill Treatment, Not Jail Time. NPR.org. Retrieved 3 November 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/04/419443253/la-police-unit-intervenes-to-get-mentally-ill-treatment-instead-of-jail

The Stepping Up Initiative,. (2016). Lt. Lionel Garcia | The Stepping Up Initiative. The Stepping Up Initiative. Retrieved 3 November 2016, from https://stepuptogether.org/people/lt-lionel-garcia

Walker, T. (2015). WitnessLA.com » Blog Archive » LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit a National Model, Oakland Policing Turnaround, Early Trauma-informed Healthcare…and More. Witnessla.com. Retrieved 3 November 2016, from http://witnessla.com/lapd/2015/taylorwalker/lapds-mental-evaluation-unit-a-national-model-oakland-policing-turnaround-early-trauma-informed-healthcare-and-more/


Human Services in the Criminal Justice System Trends Evaluation