Mental Health Liaison Program

What exactly is the Mental Health Liaison Program? To answer this question, it is useful to provide a bit of historical information to understand how this program emerged. The Madison Police Department has a longstanding commitment to partnering with mental health providers in order to improve services to those with mental illnesses. Beginning in the mid 1980's, our department dedicated a full time sergeant position to serve as a liaison to the Mental Health Center of Dane County (MHCDC) and other agencies. Building upon that early foundation, our response has evolved and expanded over the years to employ a multifaceted approach to these issues.

Mental Health Liaison Officer Grant Humerickhouse (on the right) assists the Madison Police Department Training Team with the Professional Communication Skills component of the MPD Academy Curriculum, serving as an actor in a scenario.

Beginning in 2004 and in keeping with our decentralized model of service, we established our Mental Health Liaison Program. This program is the core of our formal Specialized Policing Response (SPR). Coordinated by a lieutenant, the Mental Health Liaison Program consists of selected volunteer officers who serve as liaisons representing each of our 5 districts. Starting with only 5 officers in 2004 - one for each district - the program has grown to include 18 district officers as well as the lieutenant-level coordinator. The Program Coordinator and the various liaison officers work collaboratively with mental health providers, advocates, and consumers to provide individual response plans and follow up, address system issues/concerns, share information internally and externally as appropriate, and if possible respond to mental health calls for service when they arise.

While the Mental Health Liaison Program is an essential element of our SPR, it is not the only element. It is important to consider this program within the context of our department's overall operating philosophy. Because it is impossible to predict when and where a mental health crisis may erupt, the Madison Police Department trains each and every officer to respond to persons with mental illness who are in crisis with compassion, to utilize appropriate communication/de-escalation and stabilization skills, and to work collaboratively toward an effective resolution.

Given that we conduct our own training academy, we are able to tailor our training topics to best suit the needs of our community/department and to a degree that far exceeds minimum certification standards. All officers receive approximately 60 hours of crisis management and mental health related training during the course of the pre-service academy. In addition, all officers receive ongoing in-service training in this area. With the caliber of our recruiting and training standards, and the emphasis placed on these issues, the Mental Health Liaison Program serves to further supplement our overall response with a specialized approach and provides added support to first-responding officers before, during, and after any mental health crisis occurs.

Mental Health Liaison Officer Matt Magolan (in the white t-shirt) also serves as an actor during a Professional Communication Skills scenario. Mental Health Liaison Officer Sarah Shimko (wearing a traffic vest center of photo) takes notes in order to provide MPD recruits with feedback reference this scenario.

Mental Health Liaison Officers - who are regularly-assigned patrol officers that volunteer/are selected to serve as Mental Health Liaisons - do respond to mental health crises when available, but their primary responsibilities include: Identifying ongoing issues and coordinating follow-up efforts with partner agencies; outreach to residents in their respective districts with mental illness; serving as a points-of-contact regarding mental health systems issues; conducting trainings, attending relevant community meetings, and sharing necessary information internally and externally as appropriate. In conjunction with fellow district patrol officers, the Mental Health Liaison Officers work within and across districts to provide a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative response to persons with mental illness.

In an effort to expand the knowledge base for law enforcement agencies interested in starting or enhancing a specialized policing response (SPR), the Council of State Governments Justice Center in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), selected six agencies to serve as law enforcement/mental health "learning sites." The six agencies chosen represent a strong collaborative effort between law enforcement and mental health agencies and will serve as centers for peer-to-peer learning and support.

Learn more about the Criminal Justice / Mental Health Learning Sites Project.