Beyond police crisis intervention: moving "upstream" to manage cases and places of behavioral health vulnerability

Int J Law Psychiatry. Sep-Oct 2014;37(5):439-47. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2014.02.016. Epub 2014 Mar 13.


Law enforcement officers continue to serve on the front lines as mental health interventionists, and as such have been subject to a wave of "first generation" reform designed to enhance their crisis response capabilities. Yet, this focus on crisis intervention has not answered recent calls to move "upstream" and bolster early intervention in the name of long-term recovery. This paper reports on findings from an action research project in Philadelphia aimed at exploring opportunities for enhanced upstream engagement. Study methods include spatial analyses of police mental health transportations from an eight year period (2004-2011) and qualitative data from twenty-three "framing conversations" with partners and other stakeholders, seven focus groups with police and outreach workers, five key informant interviews as well as document reviews of the service delivery system in Philadelphia. Recommendations include the need to move beyond a focus on what police can do to a wider conception of city agencies and business stakeholders who can influence vulnerable people and vulnerable spaces of the city. We argue for the need to develop shared principles and rules of engagement that clarify roles and stipulate how best to enlist city resources in a range of circumstances. Since issues of mental health, substance use and disorder are so tightly coupled, we stress the importance of establishing a data-driven approach to crime and disorder reduction in areas of the city we term "hotspots of vulnerability". In line with a recovery philosophy, such an approach should reduce opportunities for anti-social behavior among the "dually labeled" in ways consistent with "procedural justice". Furthermore, crime and disorder data flowing from police and security to behavioral health analysts could contribute to a more focused case management of "repeat utilizers" across the two systems. Our central argument is that a twin emphasis on "case management" and "place management" may provide the pillars needed to move upstream and strengthen interventions along a continuum of engagement.

Keywords: Behavioral health; Hotspots; Interventions; Philadelphia; Place management; Police.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Community-Based Participatory Research
  • Crisis Intervention*
  • Humans
  • Law Enforcement
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Philadelphia
  • Police*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Transportation of Patients*
  • Vulnerable Populations