Tucson police wins recognition for mental health collaboration

Crisis Education
April, 9 2021 Tucson Police

TUCSON, AZ: The Tucson Police Department(TPD)has been selected to join the National LawEnforcement-Mental Health Learning SitesProgram.The Learning SitesProgram identifies model programs within police departments that can assist other law enforcement agencies across the country in their efforts to improve services for people with mental illnesses. The program is supported by The Council of State GovernmentsJustice Center, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Police Foundation. There has been increasing attention on the need for collaboration between law enforcement agencies and mental health systems. Mental illness is estimated to play a role in a quarter of police-involved shootings. Over two million people with serious mental illness are booked into jails each year, where they tend to stay longer, cost more, and have higher rates of recidivism. The Learning Sites Program was designed to help local jurisdictions learn from communities that have achieved success in improving these outcomes.TPD was one of four new agencies selected through a competitive process to join six existing learning sites. The ten learning sites Houston (TX) Police Department; Los Angeles (CA)Police Department; Madison (WI) Police Department; Portland (ME) Police Department; SaltLake City (UT) Police Department; University of Florida (FL) Police Department; Madison County(TN) Sheriff’s Office; Arlington (MA) Police Department; Jackson County (OH) Sheriff’s Office; and Tucson (AZ) Police Department. The designation provides federal funding to support communities around the nation to travel to Tucson for site visits and technical assistance in developing or enhancing police-mental health collaborations. Visitingagencies will use this assistance to help reduce repeat encounters with law enforcement, reduce arrests, increase connections to and availability of behavioral health resources, and make encounters with officers safer. As co-sponsors of the Learning Site, the Pima County Attorney’s Office and Connections Health Solutions will support TPD in hosting the learning site visits. An identified strength of the Tucson program is the strong collaboration among a diverse array of community partners, and site visits will highlight model programs from a variety of agencies in Southern Arizona, including:


  • Mental Health Support Teams (MHST)–This highly specialized team of officers and detectives focuses on proactively and compassionately connecting people with mental health needs to services before the situation escalates to a crisis. This model was first developed by the Pima County Sherriff’s Office in response to the January 8 shooting and has been further developed and expanded at the Tucson Police Department under the leadership of Chief Chris Magnus. TPD’s MHST team has successfully connected thousands of people to care while reducing uses of force to nearly zero.
  • Crisis Line/Mobile Crisis Teams, and Co-Responder Teams: A state-of-the-art crisis call center is housed in the CRC complex, and provides 24/7 access to telephonic crisis counseling. If needed, the crisis line can dispatch one of a dozen crisis mobile teams to collaborate with law enforcement in assessment, stabilization, connection to services, and welfare and follow-up checks. In addition, co-responder teams comprised of an officer and mobile team clinician can be dispatched together to respond to certain crises. The Crisis Line is operated by NurseWise. The mobile teams are operated by community Bridges, Inc., which also provides co-responders and Community HealthAssociates.
  • Crisis Response Center (CRC)– Built-in 2011 with Pima County bond funds, the CRC provides 24/7 access to emergency psychiatric and substance use treatment services for both adults and youth, and it serves as the central receiving facility for law enforcement to bring individuals to treatment rather than jail. Half of the 12,000 individuals receiving care at the CRC each year arrive via law enforcement. The CRC is part of the BannerUniversity Medical Center South Campus, operated by Connections Health Solutions, and funded by the Regional Behavioral Health Authority Cenpatico Integrated Care.
  • Courts: The Behavioral Health Pavilion at Banner University Medical Center SouthCampus was built with Pima County bond funds and houses a Mental Health Court so that most civil commitment hearings can be held with minimal disruption to those receiving care at the facility. The Pima County Attorney’s Office has developed many collaborative justice programs, such as the Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison program, that are designed to identify and divert people to treatment. 

The Learning Site designation is further indication of Southern Arizona’s emerging reputation as a national leader in the area of mental health and criminal justice collaboration and innovation. Pima County is part of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety + JusticeChallenge network and has received national accolades for its sophisticated data-driven justice initiative that provides crucial clinical data in real-time when someone in behavioral health treatment is booked into jail and. The crisis program, and in particular the CRC, has received national attention as a model to replicate and hosted visitors from around the world. The Southern Arizona Mental Health First Aid Training Program–a collaboration between TPD, PCSO, and Cenpatico Integrated Care–is the recipient of the National Council for BehavioralHealth’sCommunityImpact Award. And numerous local leaders have been recruited to serve on advisory panels to organizations such as the Substance Use and Mental Health ServicesAdministration, President’s Advisory Panels, and the Department of Justice. The Learning SitesTeam is excited to continue this tradition of innovation and assisting other communities in developing solutions for this important problem.


Additional information regarding the Law Enforcement-Mental Health Learning Sites Initiative-including instructions on how to request technical assistance from the learning sites-is available at theLaw Enforcement Mental Health Learning Sites website or on the police-Mental Health Collaboration Toolkit. Contact the Law Enforcement-Mental Health LearningSites Program by emailing le-mh-learningsites@csgjusticecenter.org.