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New Research to Study Program that Improves Police Interactions with Mentally Ill

Science Update

A new grant funded by NIMH will examine the effectiveness and utility of a program designed to improve police interactions with people who have mental disorders. The two-year study will follow the progress of the Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) program, as it is implemented in Chicago.

CIT is being implemented in police districts across the country in an effort to improve relationships between law enforcement and the mental health care system. By training officers to recognize mental illnesses, diffuse potential conflicts and re-direct people with mental illnesses to the mental health care system when appropriate, CIT aims to reduce injuries to both officers and people with mental illness and reduce the number of arrests of people with mental illness. The program is popular in the law enforcement community, and anecdotal evidence has indicated that it is effective. However, little empirical data exist that provide scientifically valid evidence of its effectiveness, nor has the program been implemented in any uniform way.

Amy Watson, PhD of the University of Illinois and colleagues will systematically examine the CIT program in Chicago, where teams are being trained over an 18-month period (beginning winter 2007) in each of the city's 25 districts. The timing of the program's implementation affords Watson a rare opportunity to compare districts that already have CITs, with those that are in the process of training teams, and those in which CIT does not yet exist.

Watson and colleagues will gauge responses to the new program, and identify its impact on officers, communities, and the mental health care system. With the data they collect, they plan to develop a framework by which future research on police-based interventions in the context of mental illness can be conducted. Depending on the outcome of this study, Watson also intends to expand the research to include other cities as they implement the CIT program.