August 4, 2022

Whitehouse Cheers Senate Passage of Bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act

Washington, DC – The U.S. Senate this week unanimously passed the bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act co-authored by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) to improve training for police officers who interact with individuals dealing with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use issues.  

“Police officers serve on the frontlines in their communities, and we must ensure they have the training to handle situations involving complex mental and behavioral health issues safely and with compassion.  This robust training can boost public safety and prevent the kinds of encounters that too often lead to tragedy,” said Senator Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  “I’m grateful to Senator Cornyn for his partnership, and I urge the House to take up this important bill that will save lives in communities across the country.”

“By providing funding for law enforcement agencies to train their officers in de-escalation tactics, this bill will give law enforcement better tools to support those experiencing mental health crises,” said Senator Cornyn.  “I applaud the Senate for moving this legislation forward and urge my colleagues in the House to do the same.”

Underfunded and overworked mental and behavioral health systems often leave police to intervene with people who urgently need mental or behavioral health care.  But many police departments lack resources to train officers on how to deal with such situations, leading to encounters that are dangerous for everyone involved.

The senators’ bill would help law enforcement personnel respond more effectively to people suffering mental or behavioral health crises, including using alternatives to force and de-escalation tactics and working with mental health professionals on crisis intervention teams.  It would empower police and the mental health professionals working with them to connect individuals to mental and behavioral health services in their community to create better public safety outcomes.  In addition to protecting officers and communities, these programs reduce arrests and prison time for people in need of mental or behavioral health treatment. 

The bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act:

  1. Requires the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to develop curricula in the training topics, or identify existing curricula, in consultation with law enforcement, mental health organizations, family advocacy organizations, and civil rights and civil liberties groups, among other stakeholders;
  2. Authorizes $124 million in grant funding over four years for training, including scenario-based exercises and evaluative assessments; and
  3. Requires 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.

Last month, Whitehouse and U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) announced $1.2 million in federal funding to support Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for police departments across Rhode Island.  As part of the program expansion, Thundermist Health Center, in partnership with the Rhode Island Police Chief’s Association, will equip local police departments with the tools to divert people in crisis away from the justice system and connect them with the mental and behavioral health resources they need.  Thundermist will also help create workflows for 911 and local dispatchers to ensure CIT-trained officers and, if appropriate, an embedded police clinician are sent to calls on an as-needed basis.

“A call to 911 is the often the first step toward treatment and recovery.  Law enforcement and first responders deserve the tools and training they need to safely and effectively de-escalate people experiencing a crisis,” said Liz Gledhill, Rhode Island statewide CIT coordinator and CIT-RI project manager at Thundermist Health Center.  “Without Senator Whitehouse’s unwavering leadership, we would not have a statewide Crisis Intervention Team program in Rhode Island.  As a result of this important work, thousands of Rhode Islanders who’ve encountered police during a crisis have avoided arrest.  People living with mental illness deserve access to high quality mental health care and with this legislation law enforcement can play a critical role in making sure these folks have access to treatment.”

“Now more than ever, there is a demand for mental health treatment, crisis mitigation, and substance abuse recovery services in every community throughout the country.  We must be proactive in offering a wide variety of social services rather than respond after a tragic event or wait until a situation escalates that threatens the health and well-being of those who are affected.  Law enforcement officers are sworn to protect and serve and are often the first to interact with individuals who face mental illness, homelessness, and opioid addiction, among many societal challenges.  Increased awareness and training will allow Officers to better respond to and assist those who need our help.  We recognize that to be effective, we must leverage our partnerships with local mental health and social service providers and address challenges through collaboration and teamwork.  In the short time the Cranston Police Department Crisis Intervention Team has been in place, we have achieved great success thanks to our community outreach efforts with Gateway Mental Health and the Cranston Comprehensive Community Action Program.  We have connected many people with vital services while reducing the need for Officers to respond to repetitive calls at the same addresses,” said Colonel Michael J. Winquist, Chief of Police for the Cranston Police Department.  “I thank Senator Whitehouse for being at the forefront of recognizing the need for increased law enforcement training in responding to mental health issues, including forming Crisis Intervention Teams and creating partnerships between law enforcement and behavioral health experts.  The passage of this bipartisan legislation will have a tremendous impact on public safety.”

Senators Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Tim Scott (R-SC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), and Jon Tester (D-MT) joined Whitehouse and Cornyn as cosponsors of the bill, which was first introduced in April.  The bill passed the Judiciary Committee by voice vote in May during Police Week.

The bill is endorsed by the American Psychological Association, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Fraternal Order of Police, Major County Sheriffs of America, Major Cities Chiefs Association, National Criminal Justice Association, National Association of Police Organizations, National Sheriffs’ Association, Sergeants Benevolent Association NYPD, National Association of Counties, American Counseling Association, National Register of Health Service Psychologists, American Association of Suicidology, College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists, American Association on Health and Disability, Lakeshore Foundation, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work, Maternal Mental Health Leadership Alliance, National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, National Association of County Behavioral Health and Developmental Disability Directors, National Association for Rural Mental Health, National Federation of Families, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies, the Niskanen Center, Right on Crime, Prison Fellowship, Faith and Freedom, Peace Officers Research Association of California, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and National Latino Evangelical Coalition.

Meaghan McCabe, (401) 453-5294

Press Contact

Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921