In a Congressional session that has accomplished relatively little in the area of criminal justice reform, sponsors are hoping for the success of a bipartisan measure that already has passed the Senate to help law enforcement respond more effectively to people suffering mental or behavioral health crises.
Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act, which senators passed by a voice vote. The bill would provide federal funds for police training in 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, according to Whitehouse's website.
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand how public safety is improved when law enforcement and mental health providers work together,” said one backer, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). “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. Only a few police departments train officers on how to deal with such situations, leading to encounters that are dangerous for all involved.
Some 34 states do not require de-escalation training for all officers. The Dallas Police Department saw an eighteen percent drop in use of force the year after it instituted de-escalation training. In addition, since 2010, excessive force complaints there have dropped by eighty three percent. Las Vegas has reported a reduction in use of force and officer-involved shootings, which fell by more than half between 2012 and 2016, says APMreports.com.
Among more than 280 law enforcement agencies, new recruits received an average of 58 hours of firearms training and just eight hours of de-escalation training, according to APMreports.com. In addition, although a variety of consultants were offering de-escalation training to police departments, their courses varied widely.
There was no general agreement in law enforcement about what concepts should be included in de-escalation training or how they should be taught. As of 2015, there was also no academic research on whether any variety of de-escalation training actually protected the public, according to Robin Engel, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati.
Engel later conducted a rigorous evaluation of de-escalation training provided to Louisville officers.
She found that de-escalation training reduced use-of-force incidents by 28 percent and citizen injuries by 26 percent. She discovered that officer injuries were reduced by an even larger margin, 36 percent.
To improve officer training on mental and behavioral health, and to promote community intervention programs, the Whitehouse-Cornyn bill would 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.
The law would authorize $70 million in annual grant funding for training, including scenario-based exercises and evaluative assessments. A core group of stakeholders is supporting the bill, including the National Criminal Justice Association, Prison Fellowship, Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major County Sheriffs Association.