George Mason University: George Mason University criminologists receive $1.48 million for improving mental health responses in public safety

George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy (CEBCP) has been awarded $1.48 million in federal funds to enhance research and practice in police encounters of individuals in mental health crises.

Led by Sue-Ming Yang and Yasemin Irvin-Erickson, senior fellows in the CEBCP and professors of Criminology, Law and Society within Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the research involves collaborative efforts among the CEBCP, the Prince William County Police Department, and the Roanoke County Police Department to enhance the capacity of policing mental health problems in Virginia. The coalition also includes the Roanoke City, Salem and Viton police departments, each of which is also working towards implementing a co-responder model to assist people in mental health crisis.

“Law enforcement officials are routinely challenged about how to best respond and assist individuals experiencing a mental crisis—with the number of such encounters rapidly increasing,” said Mason Provost and Executive Vice President Mark R. Ginsberg. “This initiative will provide valuable training and associated resources that will assist officers as they respond and be a catalyst for supporting those in crisis—both of which will be of significant benefit.”

The funding, which was part of the omnibus appropriations bill, resulted from efforts by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who worked in tandem with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) in support of the proposal. It will be used to support research and training on diverting individuals with mental health disorders from criminal justice contact and prepare officers to respond to mental health-related crises in Virginia.

These efforts will strengthen both law enforcement’s and the community’s mental health response capacity by 1) providing officers with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) and behavioral health training; 2) building a preventative, community-oriented co-responder model consisting of crisis clinicians and officers to better respond to mental health-related crisis; and 3) providing officers with well-being checkups to screen for potential mental health issues for early interventions.

“These additional tools come at a critical time as police departments and their partners struggle to keep their communities safe while also minimizing officer use of force in these situations,” Yang said. “A co-response team provides a more person-centered and trauma-informed approach to mental health-related incidents.”

Cynthia Lum, CEBCP director and University Professor of Criminology, Law and Society at Mason, emphasized that the effort will continue long-standing research partnerships that the CEBCP faculty have with Prince William County and Roanoke County police departments.

“These partnerships sharpen our research on effective public safety interventions for those in crisis and continue to showcase the practical impact that George Mason University has in the commonwealth,” Lum said.

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