Eight States Weigh Bills to Improve Police Response to Mental Health Crises

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Philadelphia police. Photo by chrisinphilly via flickr

In response to several high-profile deaths of people with mental health issues in police custody, lawmakers in at least eight states are introducing legislation to change how law enforcement agencies respond to those in crisis, reports the Associated Press.

In New York, Utah, and California, lawmakers have introduced legislation requiring increases in training such as crisis intervention, deescalation, and completion of college level courses in mental health, social services, and psychology. At least 34 states already require officers to have training or other education on interacting with people who have physical or mental health conditions.

But law enforcement experts say updated training is needed and agencies are far behind. Some of the new legislation looks to strengthen or improve standards. But because mental health training is a mandate in a majority of states, some advocates and experts believe it may never fully prepare officers on how to respond.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to getting treatment for the mentally ill, concluded in a 2015 report those with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than others.

However, none of the state proposals appear to address the root question: Should police be the ones responding when someone is mentally ill? Since it is often not possible to prevent people in mental crises from interacting with the police, cities such as Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, have introduced programs where a social worker or other mental health professional assists officers on such calls.

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