Bill would train officers to respond to mental health, behavioral health, and substance use crises
Washington, DC – Today, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) led colleagues in introducing the bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act to help law enforcement respond more effectively to people suffering mental or behavioral health crises. The senators’ bill would improve training for police officers interacting with individuals dealing with mental or behavior health issues, including using alternatives to force and de-escalation tactics and working with mental health professionals on crisis intervention teams. It would also empower police and the mental health professionals working with them to link individuals to mental and behavioral health services in their community.
Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tim Scott (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) joined Whitehouse and Cornyn as original cosponsors of the bill.
“Too often, police respond when someone is suffering a mental health or behavioral health issue, yet lack the resources they need to do so effectively. We can save lives by equipping officers to recognize and respond appropriately to those situations, to work with mental health professionals, and connect people to treatment,” said Senator Whitehouse. “I’m pleased to join with Senator Cornyn on this important bill.”
“We ask law enforcement in our communities to wear too many hats, including that of mental health provider, and they often do not have enough resources or training to provide the level of care individuals in crisis need,” said Senator Cornyn. “We must give them the necessary tools so officers feel supported while helping those experiencing mental health emergencies and other crises, and this legislation would do just that.”
“Our law enforcement often has to make up for the deficiencies of our mental health system,” said Dr. Cassidy. “Let’s give law enforcement the tools and training they need for their safety and for those in the midst of a mental health crisis.”
“Our brave law enforcement officers are asked to respond to a wide variety of calls, and they must have the training that they need to manage any situation that they face,” Senator Hassan said. “When it comes to those with mental health challenges, it is particularly important that officers can recognize the signs and de-escalate the situation swiftly. This bipartisan bill will help ensure that police have the tools and training to respond to a mental health crisis, and I will keep working to build support for it.”
“As the first ones on the scene, America’s law enforcement officers must be ready to respond to crises of all types. Equipping them with the necessary training and resources to ensure they can do their jobs and keep our communities safe is just plain common sense. I have been calling for this type of reform for years, and I am glad to be a part of this bipartisan group working to finally make it happen,” said Senator Scott.
“Too often in communities around the country, we task police officers with responding to individuals with mental health issues in our communities without giving them the resources to provide appropriate care,” said Senator Coons, co-chair of the Senate Law Enforcement Caucus. “On both sides of the aisle, we agree on the importance of improving resources for those experiencing mental or behavioral health crises in our communities. By helping to connect police officers with health providers and emergency services, this bipartisan bill would create better outcomes – both for law enforcement and for those in need of support.”
“Our law enforcement officers are willing to put their lives on the line every day, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude,” Senator Capito said. “I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation, which will help provide critical resources to make our communities safer by better preparing officers to help those experiencing mental health emergencies. It’s critical that we do all we can to support our brave law enforcement officers and provide support to vulnerable members of our communities in times of crisis, and this commonsense legislation will do just that.”
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand how public safety is improved when law enforcement and mental health providers work together,” said Senator Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure members of law enforcement have the training and resources they need to appropriately address mental health crises, and properly respond to those suffering from mental health issues.”
Underfunded and overworked mental and behavioral health systems often leave police to confront people who urgently need mental or behavioral health care. But many police departments don’t train officers on how to deal with such situations, leading to encounters that are dangerous for all involved.
In response, a growing number of communities have developed community intervention programs to help law enforcement address mental or behavioral health crises. These programs connect officers on the street with mental and behavioral health providers and hospital emergency services.
In addition to protecting officers and communities, these programs reduce arrests and prison time for people in need of mental or behavioral health treatment. This is better for the individual facing mental or behavioral health challenges, and can save governments on prison costs. As the National Alliance on Mental Illness has observed, an inmate in Detroit battling mental illness costs $31,000 a year in jail, while mental health treatment costs only $10,000 a year in the community.
At minimum, all police officers should be equipped with the skills to respond to people with mental or behavioral health issues safely and with compassion.
To improve officer training on mental and behavioral health, and to promote community intervention programs, the Bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act would:
1. Require the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to developing curricula in the training topics, or identifying existing curricula, in consultation with law enforcement, mental health organizations, family advocacy organizations, and civil liberties groups, among other stakeholders;
2. Authorize $70 million in annual grant funding for training, including scenario-based exercises and evaluative assessments;
3. Require the National Institute of Justice and the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the implementation of the program and the effect of the training, to ensure that the curricula have a tangible impact on law enforcement encounters with people in crisis, and identify possible changes that would further improve outcomes.
The bill is endorsed by the National Criminal Justice Association, National Association of Counties, American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, American Counseling Association, National Register of Health Service Psychologists, American Association of Suicidology, Major Cities Chiefs Association, Major County Sheriffs of America, National Association of Police Organizations, National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, the American Association on Health and Disability, the Lakeshore Foundation, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, the Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, the National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, the National Association for Rural Mental Health, and the Niskanen Center.
Full text of the senators’ bill is available here.