Law Enforcement and Mental Health

Each year, 2 million jail bookings involve a person with mental illness.1 Approximately 15% of men and 30% of women in local jails have a serious mental illness.2 1 in 4 people killed in officer-involved shootings has a serious mental illness.3

These numbers just begin to show some of the relationships—and consequences—of a sad truth: With our failing mental health system so inadequate, law enforcement agencies have increasingly become de facto first responders to people experiencing mental health crisis.

How Law Enforcement Can Make a Difference

Since 1988, NAMI and our national network of local and state organizations have partnered with law enforcement agencies on Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) programs, which help law enforcement cope with these difficult calls for service and increase safety in these situations—for officers, individuals in crisis and bystanders.

In over 2,700 communities, CIT programs have provided top-notch training for officers, and helped deal with problems like:

  • Besides jail, where can an officer take a person for mental health treatment—especially in the middle of the night?
  • How can we speed up the transfer of custody at the ED, so officers can get back to work more quickly?
  • Why do we keep getting calls for service of the same individual in crisis—sometimes only 24 or 48 hours after we’ve taken them to the hospital for an emergency psychiatric hold?

Get Involved in—or Start—a CIT program

If your community has a CIT program, consider getting involved. There are important roles for officers to play, as well as local mental health providers, individuals living with mental illness and their families.

If your community does not yet have a CIT program, you can work with your local partners to start one. The process is dynamic, and built on strong local relationships—so it takes more than just planning a training—but the work is worth it. 

Supporting the Officers Who Protect Us

The stresses on law enforcement officers have grown greater, and we know that there is a disturbing trend in law enforcement suicide. With the increase in mass shooting events, it’s become more evident than ever that officer mental wellness needs to be a priority from the day of hire to retire.

Building Resiliency within Law Enforcement Agencies

Working with police chiefs from communities like Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo., NAMI is addressing this challenge by developing a comprehensive guide for law enforcement executives on how to build resiliency within their agencies. The guide, designed to address the disturbing trend of mass shooting incidents, also gives chiefs steps to mitigate the mental health impact of a mass casualty event and keep officers fit for duty.

Be on the lookout for our upcoming guide, The Chief’s Role in Safeguarding Officer Mental Health After Mass Casualty Events, coming in Spring 2016.

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1 Subramanian R., Delaney R. Roberts S., Fishman N.,  McGarry P. (2015). “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America” Vera Institute of Justice 4. Accessed April 9, 2015 at:; Jail Inmates at Midyear 2013” US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics NCJ 245350. Accessed April 9, 2015 at:

2 Ibid.

3 Distraught People, Deadly Results. The Washington Post. Accessed Oct. 1, 2015 at: