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Specialized Policing Responses: Law Enforcement/Mental Health Learning Sites

Jurisdictions across the country are exploring strategies to improve the outcomes of encounters between law enforcement and people with mental illnesses. These efforts took root in the late 1980s, with the emergence of crisis intervention teams (CIT) and co-response models. As a growing number of communities engage in the development of specialized policing responses (SPRs), many grapple with the program design process, and are unsure how to tailor models from other jurisdictions to their own distinct problems and circumstances.

In an effort to expand the knowledge base for law enforcement agencies interested in starting or enhancing a SPR, the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, with assistance from a team of national experts and the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), selected six police departments to act as national law enforcement/mental health learning sites. Located across the country, these learning sites represent a diverse cross-section of perspectives and program examples, and are dedicated to helping other jurisdictions across the country improve their responses to people with mental illnesses.

Madison Police Department Total number of agency personnel: 550 Sworn: 444 Civilian: 106 Total population served: 232,000 Jurisdiction and state: Madison, Wisconsin

Program Highlights • Data collection and information dissemination to line-level officers • Training for all officers accomplished through "scenario-based" academy model • Officers trained to be "Mental Health Liaisons" Since the mid-1980s, the Madison Police Department (MPD) has been dedicated to establishing and cultivating ongoing collaborations with agencies such as the Mental Health Center of Dane County Human Services, NAMI Dane County, United Way Delegation to Improve Behavioral Health, Mendota Mental Health Institute of Wisconsin, the Dane County Sheriff's Office, the Dane County District Attorney's Office, the Wisconsin Probation and Parole Division, the State of Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and several local hospitals. The MPD has expanded its SPR over the years to include a multifaceted approach that includes the Mental Health Liaison Program, coordinated by a lieutenant. MPD trains every officer to respond appropriately to individuals with mental illnesses who are in crisis, and ensures that they use communication, de-escalation, and stabilization skills to work collaboratively toward an effective resolution. MPD conducts extensive training at its academy, where agency personnel are able to tailor training topics to best suit the needs of the community, the department, and its officers. All officers receive approximately sixty hours of crisis management and mental health-related training during the course of the pre-service academy, as well as ongoing in-service training.

To complement the MPD’s specialized training, the Mental Health Liaison Program provides additional support to first-responding officers to prevent, respond, and de-escalate, or follow-up after a mental health crisis. Mental health liaison officers—who are regularly-assigned patrol officers who volunteer or are selected to serve—respond to mental health crises when available. Their primary responsibilities include identifying ongoing concerns or barriers to improved responses and coordinating follow-up efforts with partner agencies; engaging residents with mental illnesses in their districts; serving as a point of contact regarding mental health systems issues for the community; and conducting trainings, attending relevant community meetings, and sharing necessary information internally and externally, as appropriate. In conjunction with fellow patrol officers, the mental health liaison officers work within and across districts to provide a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative response to people with mental illnesses.

To learn more about the Madison Police Department and their initiatives, contact: Name

Kristen Roman


Lieutenant 211 S. Carroll St. Madison, WI 53704 (608) 267-1194

Address Phone E-mail

To learn more about the Law Enforcement/Mental Health Learning Sites, coordinated by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center and supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), visit or contact Whitney Kujawa ( For more information about law enforcement responses to people with mental illnesses, visit