Sharing Behavioral Health Information within Police-Mental Health Collaborations

Sharing information is at the heart of police-mental health collaborations (PMHCs). Having access to appropriate and timely behavioral health information is crucial to ensuring effective law enforcement responses across a range of scenarios—from responding to someone in mental health crisis to accurately gauging demand for behavioral health services. But communities often struggle as they try to develop and implement strategies for sharing this information among their law enforcement and behavioral health system partners. Understandably, many jurisdictions have concerns about federal and state privacy laws, but misconceptions of these mandates often limit what information officers collect and access on the scene. Other communities falter in trying to establish connections between their various data systems, making it difficult to identify shared clients and facilitate effective partnerships among agencies in the PMHC.

Fortunately, a number of communities across the country have started to develop a range of practical strategies that demonstrate it is possible to legally share information to support PMHCs in improving police responses to people who have behavioral health needs and strengthening people’s connections to treatment. This webpage is intended as a living resource and includes examples of some of these jurisdiction-specific strategies. While these strategies were developed with each community's unique needs and language in mind, the resources within are provided with permission and can be used as templates for jurisdictions seeking to create their own strategies for sharing behavioral health information.

Establishing an Information-Sharing Approach

PMHCs can increase their capacity to safely and effectively share information by first working together to understand privacy law, and then establishing shared goals and clear protocols among law enforcement leaders and their behavioral health partners, and providing training before an officer encounters a crisis situation. Policies and procedures should be developed and adopted by all PMHC stakeholders and make clear what information can be shared, with whom, and for what purposes. Establishing this information-sharing approach from the outset of the PMHC helps to build trust among key partners and ensures that people at all organizational levels—from leadership to front-line staff—understand and are committed to appropriately using and sharing information.

Using Information-Sharing Protocols During Crisis Situations

With interagency information-sharing protocols in place, officers are better positioned to effectively respond in a crisis situation when quick decision making is crucial. These protocols help ensure officers know what information they can and should be collecting on scene, when and how this information can be shared with their PMHC partners, and how to access behavioral health information from their partners in crisis situations. Further, the materials and training provided to officers before they encounter a situation better position them to request a person’s consent to access their personal health information on the scene and to assist in connections to treatment and follow-up care.

Conducting Follow-up After a Crisis Encounter

Sharing information among law enforcement and behavioral health agency partners after an officer has an encounter with a person in mental health crisis is critical to reducing repeat encounters and improving people’s connections to treatment. With this information in hand, PMHC partners can work together to identify people who are frequently involved in both the behavioral health and criminal justice systems and who may benefit from follow-up visits. This information also gives the PMHC better opportunities to coordinate connections to treatment and services.