In an effort to reduce the increasing number of persons with mental illness (PMI) experiencing incarceration, co-responding police-mental health teams are being utilized as a way to divert PMI from the criminal justice system. Co-response teams are typically an inter-agency collaboration between police and mental health professionals, and in some cases include emergency medical personnel. These teams are intended to facilitate emergency response by linking patients to mental health resources rather than the criminal justice system, thus reducing burdens on both the criminal justice systems as well as local healthcare systems. The current study examines the barriers and facilitators of successfully implementing the Mobile Crisis Assistance Team model, a first-responder co-response team consisting of police officers, mental health professionals, and paramedics. Through content analysis of qualitative focus groups with team members and interviews with program stakeholders, this study expands previous findings by identifying additional professional cultural barriers and facilitators to program implementation while also exploring the role of clear, systematic policies and guidelines in program success.
Findings demonstrate the value of having both flexible and formal policies and procedures to help guide program implementation; ample community resources and treatment services in order to successfully refer clients to needed services; and streamlined communication among participating agencies and the local healthcare community. A significant barrier to successful program implementation is that of role conflict and stigma. Indeed, members of the co-response teams experienced difficulty transitioning into their new roles and reported negative feedback from other first responders as well as from within their own agency. Initial agency collaboration, information sharing between agencies, and team building were also identified as facilitators to program implementation.
The current study provides a critical foundation for the implementation of first-responder police-mental health co-response teams. Cultural and systematic barriers to co-response team success should be understood prior to program creation and used to guide implementation. Furthermore, attention must be directed to cultivating community and professional support for co-response teams. Findings from this study can be used to guide future efforts to implement first-response co-response teams in order to positively engage PMI and divert PMI from the criminal justice system.