The Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, in partnership with the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), worked collaboratively on the “Law Enforcement-Mental Health Collection Data Practices for Specialized Policing Response (SPR) Programs” project. The goal of this project was to address gaps in data collection practices and help jurisdictions overcome challenges with data collection and analysis.
The CSG Justice Center worked with three police jurisdictions—the Cambridge (MA) Police Department, Delaware (OH) Police Department, and Denver (CO) Police Department to:
- Identify and develop the type of data needed to guide and assess law enforcement agencies’ safe and effective responses to individuals with mental disorders
- Identify obstacles to collecting the data needed to accurately respond to basic questions about law enforcement encounters involving individuals with mental disorders (e.g., frequency, dispositions, or time spent per call).
The Justice Center/PERF team identified several problems with law enforcement – mental health data collection practices for specialized policing responses (SPR) including, but not limited to, the following:
- Inconsistency in call identification—Most agencies do not have a method to label or code calls for service that they believe involve an individual who has a mental disorder.
- Insufficient data management system—Many law enforcement agencies lack the software or hardware system capacity to collect and maintain data.
- Paperwork compliance—Officers may be unable to complete additional forms due to time constraints or other barriers.
- Missing data—Most encounters involving people who have a mental disorder are due to low-level offenses or nuisance behaviors. Officers may not be required to record the final dispositions of those calls if they did not take any formal action (i.e., citation, arrest, or mental health evaluation).
Identifying the obstacles that most agencies face in collecting and analyzing data on mental health calls for service is a vital first step to improving data systems. By being able to accurately measure the number and characteristics of mental health calls agencies enhance their ability to develop a specialized police response consistent with their needs and resources. The Justice Center continues to work with other agencies across the country to assist them in using data to accurately measure and manage mental health calls for service.