Democrats unveil bill to reduce police violence against people with mental illness

Greg Nash

A group of House Democrats introduced legislation on Tuesday that provides grants to cities to allow trained mental health professionals to respond to 911 calls for a person in a mental health crisis.

The proposal is an effort to reduce the number of people killed by police in such situations.

A recent Washington Post investigation found that about one in four people killed by police had some mental health issues. The outlet also found that police shootings of people with mental illness were more likely to take place in small and mid-sized areas. 

The bill, introduced by Reps. Katie Porter (Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Tony Cardenas (Calif.) and Mary Gay Scanlon (Pa.), would create a grant program to establish mental health provider “first responder units” that could be dispatched in emergency situations involving people with mental illness or intellectual disabilities.

“Too often individuals with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities are subject to unnecessary violence and are cycled in and out of our justice system when they’d be much better served by other community resources,” Porter said in a statement. 

House Democrats passed sweeping police reform legislation in June in response to the nationwide protests over racial injustice that were sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed while in police custody. 

That bill would have banned chokeholds, created a national registry of police abuses and made it easier to prosecute and sue police officers accused of misconduct. But it did not include the provisions outlined in the measure unveiled on Tuesday to address the cases of police violence toward people who are mentally ill or disabled. 

Efforts to enact police reform in the wake of Floyd’s death ultimately fizzled over the summer as Republicans and Democrats struggled to reach a compromise in the middle of an election year. 

The Senate GOP proposal, led by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), failed to overcome a Democratic filibuster.  

Scott’s bill would, among other provisions, have incentivized police departments to stop using chokeholds by linking a ban to federal grants and called for collecting data on no-knock warrants in drug cases instead of banning them outright like the House bill.

Some localities, including Los Angeles and San Antonio, have already implemented programs similar to the proposal introduced on Tuesday in which mental health professionals help police officers respond to emergency calls involving mental health crises.

President Trump also signed a bill into law on Saturday to designate a three-digit national suicide and mental health crisis hotline, 988, for people to call with concerns about loved ones or to seek help for themselves.

Tags Ayanna Pressley Donald Trump Mary Gay Scanlon Tim Scott Tony Cardenas

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