Responding to People in Crisis: Alternative Models of Police Service

Communities have been examining and reconsidering when police should be the first to respond to public health or safety situations, specifically related to people experiencing homelessness, mental health crises, and substance use disorders. The Smart Policing Initiative (SPI) program hosted a presentation: "Responding to People in Crisis: Alternative Models of Police Service Webinar" on March 25, 2021 at 2:00PM Eastern. This webinar focused on alternatives to traditional enforcement approaches when police respond to people in mental health and/or substance use crisis. Increasingly, the police have come to represent the last resort for support for individuals and families who are homeless, or in crisis as a result of mental health or substance use disorders (or co-occurrence of these conditions). Police officers are often challenged to resolve complex personal crises with limited training and resources. These crisis response calls for service also require a disproportionate amount of time when compared to all other types of calls for assistance.  As a leader in evidence-based research and solution-oriented problem solving, SPI organized a webinar focused on alternative approaches to traditional enforcement police agencies can use when they receive calls for crisis response.  

This webinar explored how three different law enforcement agencies, through the Smart Policing Initiative (SPI) initiative, developed new approaches for responding to people in crisis and the impact and outcomes of these new models. All three models adopted a service approach based on collaboration as well as co-responses with community service providers. This webinar discussed the separate experiences of a sheriff’s department, a county police agency, and a local police department. 

The SPI sites featured in this webinar – Roanoke County, VA; Sacramento County, CA; and Providence, RI – discussed the specific response models they implemented, their collaborative relationships with community-based service agencies, the successes and challenges they encountered, and the results of impact evaluations of these models.