Mental Health

NSW Police Force's Award Winning Mental Health Intervention Team Training (August 2011)

Corporate Spokespersons Message

In 2010 the NSW Police Force continues to focus on providing a world class policing response to those people in our community suffering mental illness. With such initiatives as the Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) the NSWPF has been at the forefront of policing and mental health in Australia. NSW Police Force’s continued partnership with NSW Health, other government agencies and non government agencies is already showing significant results in terms of policing.

In 2009 NSW Police Force responded to 34, 000 mental health related incidents. These figures have been stable for the past two years. As in my previous message we maintain our vigilance with key areas such as NSW Police Force transportation of persons under the Mental Health Act. For example, in 2010 we implemented a policy directive that NSW Police Force vehicles are no longer to be used in interhospital transport of mental health patients. We are also in the midst of negotiating the re assignment of police transportation duties under Section 33, Mental Health Forensic Provision 1990. Both of these initiatives seek to minimise unnecessary police involvement with the management of mental health consumers - and are in line with relevant human rights norms and legislative objects in the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW).

It has always been my belief that police will always have a legitimate role to play in managing mental illness in our community, however the primary agency is and should always be NSW Health. It is through continued dialogue and partnerships through our local networks that this close relationship continues to yield results for everyone concerned.

The NSW Police Force role in managing the mentally ill in our community is based on the premise of safety for all concerned, and our involvement is based on risk assessment.

The Mental Health Intervention Team is now an established name in the NSW Police Force. We are training on average one class per month for frontline police in our four day training program. Our goal is to train 10% of all NSWPF operational police by the end of 2015. Since its inception in 2007 we have trained over 300 police and hosted police and health professionals from across Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to our MHIT training we are involved in several NSW Government research projects including Mental Health Frequent Presenters and Mental Health and Cognitive Disability in the NSW Criminal Justice System.

The NSW Police Force policy position is outlined in the NSW Emergency Mental Health Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Supporting the MOU, the NSW Police Force have a network of 80 active Mental Health Contact Officers (one Inspector per Local Area Command) across NSW and these police officers help to ensure the streamlined implementation of the MOU and legislation at a local level.

With four full time staff, the MHIT team contains significant expertise in this complex area of mental health and policing. They are available to assist all operational police. I encourage all relevant stakeholders to look at the Mental Health site and contact the team.

Whilst much has been achieved over the last 5 years in policing and mental health it is imperative that we continue to drive our agenda of providing a safe and dignified policing response to those suffering a mental illness in the community.

Superintendent David Donohue

Corporate Spokesperson - Mental Health


The Mental Health Intervention Team (MHIT) commenced as a two year pilot program in July, 2007 under the command of Superintendent David Donohue. The MHIT project was carried out on behalf of the Commissioner’s Executive Team with sponsorship provided by Deputy Commissioner David Owens. 

As a result of a study of best practices across the world, the MHIT formed its basis on the Crisis Intervention Team concept which bears its origin in Memphis, USA. The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team model was modified to meet the needs and operating environment of the NSW Police Force and a partnership was formed with key stakeholders such as NSW Health and other agencies in order to achieve its objectives.

NSW Health supported the pilot program by funding the secondment of a senior mental health clinician to provide advice on the overall program design, content expertise with regards to the development of an MHIT training package for frontline police and to provide organisational linkage between the MHIT and the health setting service providers. Charles Sturt University was engaged by the NSWPF to independently evaluate the MHIT, through its Centre for Inland Health, the school of Policing Studies and the Australian Graduate School of Policing.

The aims of the pilot program included:

  • Reducing the risk of injury to police and mental health consumers when dealing with mental health related incidents;
  • Improving awareness amongst front line police of the risks involved in the interaction between police and mental health consumers;
  • Improved collaboration with other government and non-government agencies in the response to, and management of, mental health crisis incidents, and;
  • Reducing the time taken by police in the handover of mental health consumers into the health care system.

In consultation with various mental health experts, an intensive four day MHIT education package was developed which included the delivery of specialised mental health training to manage those experiencing a mental health emergency event. The package seeks to educate police with respect to identifying behaviors in the field indicative of mental illness, and provide them with tools such as communication strategies, risk assessment, de-escalation and crisis intervention techniques, and to gain an understanding of the current Mental Health Act 2007, as well as the Memorandum of Understanding between the NSWPF, Ambulance Service and Department of Health.

Between February 2008 and March 2009 the training package was delivered to forty officers from each of three trial Local Area Commands at Eastern Beaches, Penrith and Tuggerah Lakes. The police that completed the four day education package were accredited as specialist Mental Health Intervention Officers and can be clearly identified by the wearing of a distinct MHIT Badge worn above their name plate.

Following the success of the pilot program and positive outcomes from the ongoing independent evaluation of the MHIT by Charles Sturt University, the Commissioner’s Executive Team endorsed the formation of the MHIT as a permanent component of the NSW Police Force Policy and Programs Command as of the 1st of July, 2009. The MHIT and newly appointed Commander Inspector Joel Murchie have now been set a target of delivering the four day mental health training package to a minimum of 10 percent of all frontline officers over the next five years. This equates to approximately 300 officers per year undertaking the training and becoming accredited as specialist Mental Health Intervention officers. NSW Health will continue to support the MHIT by funding the mental health clinician position for a further three years.


Terms of Reference and MOU


Conference Presentations

Presentations by Supt Donohue and Gina Andrews at the 2011 International Mental Health Law Conference - Berlin


Relevant Mental Health Policies

Suicide Prevention Policies


Mental Health Act 2007, section 22, Request by a Member of NSW Police Force for the Assessment of an Alleged Mentally Ill or Mentally Disturbed Person at a Declared Mental Health Facility