Reintroduced police reform bills focus on mental health, disabilities

Amid calls for police reform across the country, Democratic and Republican officials are supporting new laws to change the way law enforcement agencies respond to some emergency calls.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) presented the LEAD initiative (Law Enforcement Education and Accountability for People with Disabilities) in the Senate on Monday. It consists of two bills that promise to reduce police violence against people with disabilities and in mental health emergencies: the Safe Interactions Act and the Emergency Human Services Program (HELP) Act.

Connected: Mental health calls are common with the police. What better way to respond?

The initiative comes after months of demonstrations against police brutality in the state and nation.

Earlier versions of the legislation were first introduced in December 2020, weeks before 19-year-old Christian Hall was shot dead by the Pennsylvania State Police.

Family members said Hall was between counselors at the time of the shooting and had experienced a mental crisis that the Monroe District Attorney found warranted.

Senator Susan Wild (PA-07), who co-sponsors the Safe Interactions Act, said the initiative was likely not passed in December because it was introduced so late in the congressional session. It was reintroduced to the Senate on Monday and the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“We need to take steps to ensure that a person’s ethnicity or intellectual ability is not prevented from receiving protection and fair treatment,” Casey said in an announcement.

The HELP Act would redirect certain calls – non-criminal, non-fire hazard, and non-medical emergencies – from 9-1-1 systems to United Way’s 2-1-1, where a dispatcher can connect those in need with instant, long-term connections. Term resources. Funding for responses to mental emergencies, the needs of the homeless and other non-criminal emergencies will be given “special emphasis” under the bill.

“This expansion of coverage means more people can get the help they need,” said Suzanne McCormick, US president of United Way Worldwide. “Especially people with mental illnesses and other disabilities.”

The bill would provide additional funding for state and regional 2-1-1 systems and create a monitoring committee made up of “older adults, people with disabilities, members of ethnic and racial communities, and members of other communities,” according to Casey.

The Safe Interactions Act aims to improve the training of law enforcement officers to respond to calls from people with disabilities, including people in a mental health crisis.

The law would give grants to non-profit disability organizations to develop new training for law enforcement agencies, instructed and supervised by people with disabilities, among others. Organizations that train law enforcement officers in rural communities in accordance with the law are preferred.

In a summary of the law, Casey found that people with disabilities accounted for between a third and half of all people killed by law enforcement officers in 2015. At least 25% of the shootings involve a person with an intellectual disability.

“We are asking the police to do too much in this country,” a Dallas, Texas police chief is quoted as saying in the abstract.

Pennsylvania officials are required to complete annual mental health training courses. However, research into the Pocono Record found that the effectiveness of the training is still largely controversial among those who administer and complete it.

“In these cases, the mental health professionals must be the first responders,” Holona Ochs, associate professor at Lehigh University’s Department of Political Science, said in an interview with the Record. “The police shouldn’t be tasked with doing something they’re not trained to do. It prepares them to fail.”

Using data from The Guardian’s public database on fatal encounters with law enforcement agencies, Ochs found that “collaborative teams are more likely to offer better assessment and treatment options than current punitive measures”.

While the emphasis on additional training does not address growing concerns that officials play too many roles in effectively managing mental health crises, the proposed partnership between 9-1-1 and 2-1-1 response systems does.

“Much of these dire consequences could have been avoided by relaying calls for help to human service providers,” Casey wrote. “Such an alternative resource, response and referral system can reduce the response burden on the police.”

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