Washington, DC – Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved bipartisan legislation, co-authored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX), to improve training for police officers interacting with individuals dealing with mental health, behavioral health, and substance use issues. The Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act advanced among a slate of law enforcement-related bills during National Police Week—a time to honor the officers keeping our communities safe.
“Police officers serve on the frontlines in their communities, and we must ensure they have the training to handle complex mental and behavioral health issues safely and with compassion. This robust training can boost public safety and prevent the kinds of encounters we’ve seen too often lead to tragedy,” said Senator Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m grateful to Senator Cornyn for partnering with me to advance our important bill this National Police Week.”
“Law enforcement is often first on the scene of a mental or behavioral health crisis,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This legislation will give our officers the training required to effectively respond to those experiencing a mental health emergency, and I am grateful to my Judiciary Committee colleagues for advancing this bill.”
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), and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) joined Whitehouse and Cornyn as cosponsors of the bill, which was first introduced in April. The bill passed the Judiciary Committee by voice vote.
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 don’t train officers on how to deal with such situations, leading to encounters that are dangerous for all 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 Major County Sheriffs of America (MCSA) applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee’s passage of the bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act. Increasing numbers of individuals with mental illnesses are coming into contact with the criminal justice system, which has stressed law enforcement’s ability to meet the needs of those in crisis. This important legislation will provide law enforcement with necessary resources for quality training to enhance our ability to safely interact with those suffering from mental health conditions and connect them with mental and behavioral health services. MCSA stands ready to support all efforts to advance this critical legislation,” said Sheriff Dennis Lemma, President, MCSA.
“For decades, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has advocated across the country to improve communities’ responses to people experiencing mental health emergencies,” said Hannah Wesolowski, Chief Advocacy Officer, NAMI. “All too often, law enforcement are called to respond to people in crisis. We thank Senator Whitehouse for his leadership in introducing the Law Enforcement De-escalation and Training Act, which will help officers identify mental health crises and de-escalate crisis situations so that individuals can be connected safely to the care they need.”
“Law enforcement officers utilize de-escalation techniques every day to resolve situations as peacefully as possible for all parties involved. The Law Enforcement De-Escalation Training Act will provide law enforcement agencies with much-needed resources to help provide this critical training and enhance existing de-escalation training programs. The MCCA is grateful to Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Whitehouse for their leadership on this bipartisan bill and thanks the entire Senate Judiciary Committee for unanimously advancing this legislation during today’s markup to commemorate National Police Week,” said Chief Jeri Williams, Phoenix Police Department and President, Major Cities Chiefs Association.
“Training more and more officers in of de-escalation techniques will have a tremendous positive impact on public safety and the relationship between the public and law enforcement officers,” said Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Numerous studies have shown that civilians base their perceptions of law enforcement on their last encounter. Providing officers with the skills and training to avoid needless escalation during calls for service enable officers to protect the public more safely and effectively while strengthening the confidence of the public in their police.”
The bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act:
- Requires 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;
- Authorizes $124 million in grant funding over four years for training, including scenario-based exercises and evaluative assessments; and
- 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.
The bill is also endorsed by American Psychological 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.
Rich Davidson (Whitehouse), 202-228-6291
Drew Brandewie (Cornyn), 202-224-0704