Characteristics of patients referred to psychiatric emergency services by crisis intervention team police officers

Community Ment Health J. 2010 Dec;46(6):579-84. doi: 10.1007/s10597-010-9295-3. Epub 2010 Feb 7.


The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program trains police officers in crisis intervention skills and local psychiatric resources. Because the safety and appropriateness of any new intervention is a crucial consideration, it is necessary to ensure that CIT training does not result in excessive or inappropriate referrals to psychiatric emergency services (PES). Yet, aside from one prior report by Strauss et al. (2005) in Louisville, Kentucky, little is known about the comparability of patients referred to PES by CIT-trained officers in relation to other modes of referral. The research questions driving this retrospective chart review of patients referred to PES were: (1) What types of patients do CIT-trained officers refer to PES?, and (2) Do meaningful differences exist between patients referred by family members, non-CIT officers, and CIT-trained officers? Select sociodemographic and clinical variables were abstracted from the medical records of 300 patients during an eight-month period and compared by mode of referral. Differences across the three groups were found regarding: race, whether or not the patient was held on the locked observation unit, severe agitation, recent substance abuse, global functioning, and unkempt or bizarre appearance. However, there were virtually no differences between patients referred by CIT-trained and non-CIT officers. Thus, while there were some expected differences between patients referred by law enforcement and those referred by family members, CIT-trained officers appear to refer individuals appropriately to PES, as evidenced by such patients differing little from those referred by traditional, non-CIT police officers. Trained officers do not have a narrower view of people in need of emergency services (i.e., bringing in more severely ill individuals), and they do not have a broader view (i.e., bringing in those not in need of emergency services). Although CIT training does not appear to affect the type of individuals referred to PES, future research should examine the effect of CIT training on the frequency of referrals or proportion of subjects encountered that are referred, which may be expected to differ between CIT-trained and non-CIT officers.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Crisis Intervention*
  • Dangerous Behavior
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Family
  • Female
  • Hospitals, County
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology
  • Police / education*
  • Referral and Consultation / statistics & numerical data*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Southeastern United States
  • Urban Population