What are Mobile Crisis Teams?

Published May 13, 2022

Regarding police-mental health collaboration (PMHC) programs, agencies select different programs due to different needs for each community. The mobile crisis team, a popular type of PMHC program, is on the rise.

Mobile Crisis Team: defined

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) defines a mobile crisis team as a team of mental health professionals that are on-call and available to respond to calls for service at the request of law enforcement officers. The goal of the mobile crisis team is to divert individuals from unnecessary jail bookings and/or emergency rooms—a goal similar to other PMHC programs.

The mental health professionals who make up a mobile crisis team have been effectively trained to help stabilize encounters and assume responsibility for securing mental health services for people in crisis. Mobile crisis teams are also able to serve and respond to requests directly from community members or their families and friends, so a law enforcement officer is not the only type of person who can request a mobile crisis team.

The mental health professionals who make up a mobile crisis team include nurses, social workers, and psychiatrists. Generally, these teams are not operated by law enforcement agencies. Studies show that mobile crisis teams are mostly managed by hospitals, government agencies, mental health organizations, and are thought to be part of the reason why this program has been so successful.

Proven success in Illinois

The Village of Orland Park, Illinois created its own mobile crisis team in October 2020 to respond to mental health calls. In just two short months, the police department responded to 61 mental health calls. The mobile crisis team was on the scene for half of those calls. Only 3% of the calls resulted in arrests, and 13% of calls resulted in transfers to the emergency room. This was a huge decline from other periods such as April to June or July to September of 2020, where 68% - 76% of calls resulted in hospital visits.

The new mobile crisis team has also resolved 56% of mental health calls while on-scene and has expanded to be available 24/7. This initial success has led the police department to expand the mobile crisis team program into 5 neighboring jurisdictions.

Tips to ensure a successful mobile crisis team

Develop cross-system partnerships

Plan ahead. Create a cross-system planning team before implementing a mobile crisis team. This planning team should include law enforcement personnel, mental health and substance abuse experts, community advocates, and criminal justice agencies. Ensure success by seeing if a mobile crisis team is an appropriate program for your community.

Provide cross-system training

Train and educate officers about the role of mental health experts in a mobile crisis team, and train and educate mental health experts about the role of law enforcement officers.

Identify and share data across systems

Try to create a shared database to compare the effectiveness of the mobile crisis team after being implemented in the community.

Ensure that the team has direct access to care

Mobile crisis teams need access to care systems so that they can provide connections instead of mere referrals.

Explore the Option of Creating a Mobile Crisis Team

Community leaders that would like to start a mobile crisis team can look to the Center for Justice and Mental Health Partnerships, which provides free training, resources, and specialized support. Any state, locality, or federally recognized tribal government, as well as organizations such as non-profit behavioral health organizations, criminal justice agencies, and service providers, can request assistance from the Center for Justice and Mental Health Partnerships.

With more mobile crisis teams being implemented, communities could ultimately reduce reliance on criminal justice measures such as arrest, citations, and transfers to emergency rooms. This helps better serve the person in crisis while on the scene rather than have them tossed around the criminal justice system with no real treatment.

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