A mother finds her teen has overdosed on heroin and dials 911; a young man with suicidal thoughts calls the police for help; a pedestrian
flags down a patrol car to report a homeless person’s erratic behavior. Police officers with little or no medical training are
increasingly first responders to mental health crises, diverting them from their primary law enforcement activities.
EMPACT-Suicide Prevention Center (EMPACT-SPC) was founded in 1987 to provide behavioral health services to individuals and families, including
crisis intervention, suicide prevention, substance abuse treatment and more. In 2013, it created The Community and Law Enforcement Collaboration
Project, partnering with the Phoenix and Tempe police departments to reduce the need for law enforcement to serve as frontline responders
to mental health and substance abuse crises.
Initially, training was the focus of this bold initiative. Crisis Intervention Teams provide 40 hours of training, helping police officers recognize
and respond to a person experiencing a mental health crisis. However, the partnership quickly evolved into a more holistic, integrated
approach to improving public safety.
Crisis mobile teams now enable the transfer of noncriminal crises to behavioral health professionals, without any police involvement. Post-crisis navigators
offer clients follow-up for 60 days as ongoing clinical services are put in place. And first-responder wellness liaisons provide support to police
officers facing behavioral health issues of their own.
“This groundbreaking partnership between behavioral health services and law enforcement is yielding clear results,” said Dr. Dan Ranieri,
CEO of La Frontera AZ, EMPACT-SPC’s parent company. “Last year, our mobile teams responded to 7,500 calls, requesting law enforcement’s
presence less than four percent of the time. And nearly 80 percent of individuals served were successfully stabilized in the community, rather than being
transported to a hospital or jail. This has enabled police officers to focus more time on keeping our communities safe.”