Objective: The study examined whether outreach teams of mental health professionals and police officers could assess and make appropriate dispositions for psychiatric emergency cases in the community, even in situations involving violence or potential violence. The study also assessed whether such teams could reduce criminalization of mentally ill persons.
Methods: One hundred and one consecutive referrals to law enforcement-mental health teams in Los Angeles were studied through records review. Subjects' status during a six-month follow-up period was also examined.
Results: Referral had a high rate of past criminal arrests, violence, and major psychopathology. Sixty-three had a history of violence against persons, 59 had a criminal arrest history, 79 had prior psychiatric hospitalizations, and 66 were serious substance abusers. At referral, 70 manifested severe psychiatric symptoms, 20 were overtly violent, and 29 others exhibited threatening behavior. However, only two of the group were arrested; 80 were taken to hospitals. At six-month follow-up of 85 referrals, 22 percent had been arrested (12 percent for crimes of violence), and 42 percent had been rehospitalized.
Conclusions: Outreach emergency teams composed of a police officer and a mental health professional are able to deal appropriately with persons who have acute and severe mental illness, a high potential for violence, a high incidence of substance abuse, and long histories with both the criminal justice and mental health systems. Such teams apparently avoid criminalization of the mentally ill.