April 10, 2023 (Reposted from NYAPRS ENews)
‘Daniel’s Law’ Would Shift NY Response to Mental Crises away from Police
By Raga Justin | Times Union | April 10, 2023
The Legislature has included $10 million in proposed funding for a pilot program to shift away from police responses to mental health crises.
ALBANY — Daniel Prude was suffering a mental health crisis when he died during an encounter with the police in Rochester three years ago, spurring waves of protests in the upstate city and calls for statewide changes to law enforcement’s approach in similar situations.
Legislation that bears his name is seeking to do that. “Daniel’s Law” would empower mental health responders, rather than police officers, to respond to distress calls and approach people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis. The law aims to reshape New York’s reliance on policing during emergency calls, a shift that comes in the wake of several highly publicized deaths alleged to involve police misconduct, including Prude’s.
State Sen. Samra Brouk, a Rochester Democrat who sponsored the bill in 2021, said that the legislation dovetails with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s own stated emphasis on mental health and public safety this year, which she said should help hasten its passage.
“This is really the moment,” Brouk said, pointing to Hochul’s proposed $1 billion investment in the state’s mental health system. “I think that the executive understands that what we’re doing isn’t working.”
Around $10 million in funding for a pilot program studying a statewide rollout of Daniel’s Law is part of the Senate’s budget, though a final spending plan is still unknown with budget negotiations ongoing in Albany. The pilot program would support community organizations and incentivize local governments to create more targeted response units for mental health crises; similar programs have been popping up in cities across the country, including New York City, over the past three years.
Glenn Liebman, CEO of the Mental Health Association in New York State Inc., said the state has a patchwork of similar services that vary county by county instead of a coordinated statewide system.
The crux of the issue, mental health advocates say, is looping in personnel who are trained to de-escalate situations without the use of force. Often, law enforcement officials who show up in uniform can unintentionally appear to pose a threat to someone who is in the midst of either a mental health or substance abuse crisis.
“In no other medical emergency do we expect people to communicate with someone with a gun,” Brouk said.
Brouk referenced the recent police shooting of a Bronx man who was experiencing a mental health crisis and was in possession of a knife when his father called a “311” nonemergency government services line for help with his son.
In Rochester, Prude, 41, had been visiting his brother’s family when he ran out of the house with few clothes on during a freezing night in March 2020. His brother Joe called 911, worried that Daniel — who struggled with suicidal thoughts and was thought to be in the middle of a psychotic episode — would hurt himself and told police as much.
Police who responded placed a “spit hood” over Daniel’s head and forcefully restrained him. He died one week later after suffering brain damage during the encounter. A medical examiner’s report ruled the death a homicide, partly from asphyxiation.
“I placed a phone call for my brother to get help, not for my brother to get lynched,” Joe Prude said during a press conference months after the incident.
The death kicked off local and statewide cries for less policing in similar situations, with Democratic legislators and advocates calling instead for a public health-based approach.
Retired Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox, who led the department for about two years beginning in 2015, has been a vocal supporter of the bill. At the start of his career in Albany, the city had a mobile crisis team in place to do almost exactly what Daniel’s Law would mandate, he said. But the program was subject to budget cuts and underfunding, Cox said.
Cox, who now works with a criminal justice reform organization called Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, said that law enforcement has increasingly been tasked with responding to calls that aren’t in officers’ purview, including mental health and substance abuse emergencies.
“The simple fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t take a 911 call to solve a mental health issue,” Cox said. “And we need to have other people that are available to respond to that crisis.”
Police presence would still be likely in cases where a person in crisis could potentially have a weapon that would present a danger to themselves or others, Cox said. The law does not call for an across-the-board transition away from policing, he added, emphasizing that police and mental health responders would work collaboratively.
For example, if someone is threatening to take their own life but has a gun, Cox said both a police presence and people trained in mental health crises would need to respond, though the mental crisis responder might take the lead to de-escalate the situation.
(April 7, 2023) NYAPRS Note: The extended budget deadline allows for more time to push for changes to the behavioral health service system. Daniel’s Law represents a necessary and major shift in the way we respond to behavioral health emergencies, changing primary responders from police to healthcare experts and EMTs. We must pass the proposed Daniel’s Law Pilot with this year’s budget. You can join the push by emailing elected leaders to ask for their support here. See NY State Senator Samra Brouk and former Chief of The Albany Police Department Brendan Cox’s recent editorial on the need for non-police emergency response teams below.
Opinion: Mental Health Emergencies Deserve Compassion, Not Criminalization
By Samra Brouk and Brendan Cox | City & State New York | April 7, 2023
This year’s state budget must include funding for a pilot program that sends trained counselors, not armed police officers, to respond to mental health crises.
Heart attacks. Strokes. Seizures. Broken bones. These are all medical conditions that can constitute an emergency, and they are moments when an individual in need can expect to receive care from a person trained in addressing their condition, someone who can connect them to the necessary resources to continue care.
So why is it that those experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis are treated differently? Instead of receiving contact from a trained counselor or peer, these individuals are left to receive their care from armed law enforcement officers who receive far too little mental health training and often lack the resources necessary to address the needs of the person in crisis. This is a deadly combination, as those living with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be a victim of an officer-involved shooting, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center. Even law enforcement officers agree that they should not be the first line of response for these calls.
We can and should do better.
As budget negotiations continue in New York, we have an opportunity to make real change for those living with mental health conditions. We can fund the Daniel’s Law Pilot Program and Task Force, named for Daniel Prude, who lost his life in Rochester following a police response to his mental health crisis. This $10 million pilot program would allow the state to invest in new and existing programs already providing nonpolice, public health-based response, and its corresponding task force will solicit community feedback and make recommendations for a larger implementation. The state Senate included funding for Daniel’s Law in its proposed one-house budget, though both Gov. Kathy Hochul and the Assembly omitted it from their budget proposals.
The notion of nonpolice responders didn’t appear out of thin air. There are several successful community diversion programs across the country, which are proven to save lives, quicken response times, and even save money for municipalities. One of the most notable is the Cahoots program, which has operated out of Eugene, Oregon, for more than 30 years. According to the Vera Institute, Cahoots’ small operating budget of roughly $2 million results in municipal savings of over $14 million each year in ambulance trips and emergency room costs, plus an estimated $8.5 million in public safety costs.
On top of significant cost savings, these programs decrease the strain on our criminal justice system by connecting individuals in need of care with the treatment they need rather than an arrest. Further, by removing law enforcement from noncriminal calls, we can lower the likelihood of an escalation between the individual in crisis and the responder – several sources, like the Center for American Progress and the International Association of Chiefs of Police agree that the presence of an officer or even a police vehicle can create a lack of trust or even act as a trigger for someone who has had a previous negative experience with law enforcement.
The data is clear and professionals agree: first responders to mental health and substance use crises should be mental health providers or peers, not armed law enforcement officers. The Daniel’s Law Pilot Program and Task Force would make this a reality – and the governor and state Legislature have an obligation to fund this initiative in this year’s budget.
State Sen. Samra Brouk represents Rochester and is the chair of the Committee on Mental Health. Brendan Cox is the former chief of the Albany Police Department and director of policing strategies for the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Support Bureau