Grants for police mental health outreach programs

One of the more difficult challenges facing law enforcement is responding to individuals with serious mental illness and behavioral health issues


Improving police responses to people with mental health issues in the community requires collaboration with many agencies, most especially behavioral health service providers.

In recent years, these police-mental health collaborations have sparked the development of strategies such as mobile crisis intervention, mental health-substance abuse provider ride-alongs and crisis intervention teams (CIT).  

The resources needed to develop and sustain these collaborations often require funding that may not be readily available within a police department’s budget. However, several federal, state and private grant programs will support these projects.

Knowing where to look and thinking outside the box can help secure the funding needed to support this valuable work. Here are a few options to consider:

Department of Justice Grants

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program supports officer and public safety and violence reduction through social service and other partnerships that will enhance and increase law enforcement responses to people with mental illness and co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. The funding can support establishing interagency working groups, cross-training, data sharing, access to resources and support personnel. Grant awards of up to $100,000 are available for law enforcement-mental health collaborations. The FY 2019 deadline is June 25.

The focus of the BJA STOP School Violence Technology and Threat Assessment Solutions for Safer Schools Program is to address the development and operation of school threat assessment and specialized multidisciplinary mental health intervention teams; the development of technology for local or regional anonymous reporting systems; and the creation or enhancement of State School Safety Centers. Law enforcement are considered a critical component of the mental health intervention teams. Grant award amounts vary by category. The FY 2019 deadline is June 11.

The National Institute of Justice’s Research and Evaluation in Safety, Health and Wellness in the Criminal Justice System program supports formal research targeted at four areas including, “enhancing strategies for officer interaction with individuals presenting with mental illness.” NIJ seeks multi-disciplinary studies that look at the effectiveness of using interventions from the public health community in criminal justice settings. This funding could support an evaluation of a police-mental health response strategy to determine its impact on officer and public safety, arrest reduction and diversion from the criminal justice system, among other areas. Awards of up to $3 million are available. The FY 2019 deadline is May 28.

Health and Human Services Grants

Law enforcement agencies often fail to consider grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) because they believe the funding is solely for behavioral or primary health service providers. This notion is far from the truth.

Grants from HHS have supported police-mental health collaborations over the past few years including the Law Enforcement and Behavioral Health Partnerships for Early Diversion program. Grants of up to $330,000 were awarded in 2018 to establish or expand programs that divert adults with a serious mental illness or a co-occurring disorder from the criminal justice system to community-based services prior to arrest and booking. This grant required the establishment of an interagency team that included law enforcement partners and other community agencies and stakeholders. Look for similar grants from HHS in the future.

SAMHSA’s Healthy Transitions grant offered in late 2018 targets youth and young adults ages 16-25 with serious mental disorders. The goals of the program include improving cross-system collaboration and implementing cross-systems provider training with multiple agencies including law enforcement. This grant supported statewide or tribal agencies tasked with leveraging local initiatives to adopt this model.

Community Mental Health Block Grants (CMHBG) should also be considered to support your police-mental health response efforts. These federal formula grants are awarded to states to implement a comprehensive statewide mental health plan. States have the flexibility to design and develop programs to address the needs of their communities with most funding directed toward treatment. Sub-awards are given to government and non-profit agencies to provide services that address the statewide plan. Reach out to your state’s Block Grant Administering Agency to discuss your resource needs and enquire if police-mental health response efforts would be considered for funding.

State Grant Opportunities

Using state mental health agency grants, several states have appropriated funding to their mental health service agency to support jail diversion programs. For example, Massachusetts has awarded grants since 2007 for police-based jail diversion programs. These funds are often competitively awarded through grants to local government, non-profit and tribal agencies. Reach out to your state’s mental health agency and ask what funding is available for your police-mental health response program.

Justice Assistance Grants are offered annually through either your state administering agency or directly to certain eligible local governments. These federal formula grant dollars can fund a host of activities including mental health programs and related law enforcement and corrections programs, including behavioral programs and crisis intervention teams. Reach out to your state administering agency contact to be included in their state plan. States are working on their FY 2019 application, which is due June 25.

Private Funding Sources

Private funding sources, whether through a local foundation, corporate giving program or private philanthropist, should also be considered to support a police-mental health response initiative.

  • The country’s largest healthcare providers including Aetna, Cigna, United Health and Anthem may have grant opportunities or funding partnerships available.  Review the guidelines available online and contact these companies to discuss your projects.
  • The Robert Wood Johnson (Johnson & Johnson Corp. founder) Foundation annually offers its Pioneering Ideas program grants that look for cutting-edge ideas from other fields to health or taking an existing idea and give it a new spin.
  • Nearly every corner of the country is represented by one community foundation or another, the Foundation Center is a great source to find your local community foundation.

Additional Resources and Toolkits

Resources are available to assist agencies in designing, implementing and testing a police-mental health response initiative. Review these websites and reach out to the sponsors; some offer free technical assistance.

The PoliceGrantsHelp team is ready to assist. Our grant assistance program includes options for departments seeking assistance in securing grant funding to support the work you do for our communities every day.

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