National Alliance on Mental Illness
page printed from
(800) 950-NAMI;

Mental Health Learning Sites Aim to Teach Effective Intervention Techniques

By Brendan McLean
NAMI Communications Assistant

To help communities in the U.S. learn about successful models of crisis intervention, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, working with the Council of State Governments’ Justice Center, has established Law Enforcement Mental Health Learning Sites in six locations across the country: Houston, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Portland, Maine, Madison, Wisc., and the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Each program highlights agencies and centers from across the country that do an exceptional job responding to crisis situations involving an individual living with mental illness.

By providing a national picture, the Learning Sites help local, state and federal policymakers and criminal justice and mental health professionals see what works around the country and what can be implemented in their own communities. Because each community is unique, the specific needs of towns and cities vary.

Communities that are struggling with problems resulting from interactions between people living with mental illness and law enforcement can take preventative measures to avoid negative situations by reaching out to the Mental Health Learning Sites to get guidance on creating a CIT or other specialized policing response program.

Detective Ron Bruno of the Salt Lake City Police Department explains this process. “Once a community has interest regarding SPRs [specialized policing responses], Salt Lake City PD will send its personnel to deliver a presentation on this concept. After further interest is developed, communities are invited to attend trainings and see firsthand the benefits of these partnerships [with Mental Health Learning Sites].”

Although the overarching goals of the training sites are the same, there are slight methodological differences in the training and implementation of specialized policing response programs. Whereas the Salt Lake City and Madison, Wisconsin Mental Health Learning sites train each individual officer, Los Angeles has psychologists that often accompany officers on calls. In Los Angeles, all officers are offered the opportunity to enroll in the CIT program, but only officers who are most likely to encounter situations that may involve a mental health crisis are required to participate.

The Houston Police Department, which requires all new members of its police force to go through mental health training as part of their CIT program, also has a co-responder program, known as a Crisis Intervention Response Team (CIRT), which partners an officer with a licensed mental health professional. According to Senior Officer Frank Webb of the Houston Police Department, “The vast majority of calls related to individuals with mental illnesses are handled by CIT officers. Last year, we had over 25,000 CIT calls. CIRT responded to 4,500.” Thus, while having mental health professionals available is beneficial, it is vital that the majority of officers need to be trained in CIT in order to handle the vast amount of calls that are received pertaining to handling individuals living with mental illness.

The Justice Center’s Consensus Project website offers additional support and resources for those interested in expanding their knowledge about Mental Health Learning Sites and effective CIT and other specialized policing response programs. In addition to the locations of the six Mental Health Learning Sites, they provide a search tool for finding local programs, information about applying for a grant to create a program—available only to state governments, units of local government and federally recognized Indian tribes—and access to webinars and other informational resources on topics concerning mental health and law enforcement.

To learn more about the Law Enforcement/Mental Health Learning Sites and the Consensus Project go to, call (212) 482 -2320 or e-mail