Report Released Exams Law Enforcement Costs of Handling People with Mental Illnesses

Current System Wastes Resources and Criminalizes Severe Mental Illness

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - Today, the Treatment Advocacy Center released a new national survey, Road Runners: The Role and Impact of Law Enforcement in Transporting Individuals with Severe Mental Illness. The first-of-its-kind survey details the outsized role law enforcement plays in psychiatric crisis response and transportation across the nation.

The failures of our national mental health system force law enforcement officers to serve as treatment providers - a role they play for no other medical condition. This national survey of sheriffs' offices and police departments provides a unique view into the burdens they shoulder and the fiscal and societal consequences of the current situation. Law enforcement officers are overwhelmed, both by the crushing volume of mental health emergencies and the need to travel long distances shuttling people with mental illness from one facility to another.

"The results of this survey are startling and have profound implications for our mental health and criminal justice systems. Continuing to put law enforcement on the front-lines of a public health crisis is costly, dangerous, and immoral," said John Snook, the Treatment Advocacy Center executive director. "This survey should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers at all levels. The status quo is unacceptable and the hundreds of millions in costs are unsustainable."

The survey responses represent 355 sheriffs' offices and police departments in the United States. Among the key findings from Road Runners:

  • An average of 10% of law enforcement agencies' total budgets was spent responding to and transporting persons with mental illness in 2017.
  • The average distance to transport an individual in mental illness crisis to a medical facility was 5 times farther than the distance to transport them to jail.
  • Survey respondents report utilizing an estimated 21% of total law enforcement staff time responding to and transporting people with mental illness.
  • Law enforcement officers waited significantly longer - almost 2.5 hours longer - when dropping a person off at a medical facility than if transporting to a jail. Some officers reported having to wait with the individual for 72 hours or more until a bed became available.
  • Survey respondents drove a total of 5,424,212 miles transporting individuals with serious mental illness in 2017- the equivalent of driving around the Earth's equator more than 217 times.

Road Runners was released in partnership with the National Sheriffs' Association and the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and funded by the Achelis and Bodman Foundation. It is available for download.


The Treatment Advocacy Center is a national non-profit organization dedicated to eliminat-ing barriers to the timely and effective treatment of severe mental illness by promoting laws, policies, and practices for improved delivery of psychiatric care for severe and persistent psychiatric illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.