Grant to fund study of police crisis-intervention teams

Amy Watson

Amy Watson (click on image for larger file size)

Can specialized training help Chicago police to divert people with mental illness into treatment services and avoid incarceration?

A $3.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to researchers in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams College of Social Work will fund a study of the effectiveness of a police-based diversion approach that uses crisis intervention teams, or CIT.

“There is emerging evidence that CIT improves police response to persons with mental illnesses,” says Amy Watson, associate professor of social work. ”This study will allow us to more rigorously test CIT effectiveness and examine factors that support improved longer-term mental health and criminal justice outcomes for persons with serious mental illnesses in the community.”

Results from a prior NIMH-funded study in four Chicago police districts suggested that CIT-trained officers were more successful at directing individuals with mental illness to services than were their non-trained peers, and they were less likely to use force with resistant subjects.

The new study will include all 22 Chicago police districts. In addition to examining how CIT and non-CIT officers handle calls involving persons with mental illnesses, the researchers also hope to recruit the call-subjects to participate in year-long followup after the initial encounter — to see how many accessed local mental health services, how many entered the criminal justice system, and how these groups fared.

Watson said she hopes the study will guide allocation of “scarce” mental health and criminal justice resources and “improve safety and outcomes for police officers, persons with mental illnesses, and Chicago’s many diverse communities.

In addition to Watson, whose background is in mental health services and the criminal justice system, study co-investigators include Don Hedeker, UIC professor of biostatistics and epidemiology, and Linda Owens, assistant director of UIC’s Survey Research Laboratory; Joel Caplan of Rutgers University; Michael Compton of George Washington University; and Jen Wood of Temple University.

The grant is NIMH award number R01MH096744.

UIC ranks among the nation’s leading research universities and is Chicago’s largest university with 27,500 students, 12,000 faculty and staff, 15 colleges and the state’s major public medical center. A hallmark of the campus is the Great Cities Commitment, through which UIC faculty, students and staff engage with community, corporate, foundation and government partners to improve the quality of life in metropolitan areas around the world.

More information about UIC.