On Tuesday, July 18, Lynda Roseman stood in front of legislators and recalled an incident in 2014 when her son, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, was high on inhalants and brandishing a knife. Roseman called the police to get help for him. When they arrived, they instead shot him in the chest, and charged him with 10 felonies.
Roseman said, “If the officers had had this training before this incident, it wouldn’t have unfolded the way it did. They would have tried to talk to him. They would have tried to de-escalate. Instead, they escalated, because that’s how they were trained” (Levenson 2017, p.3).
Massachusetts’ Bill H.2401, of which Roseman was speaking in support, would encourage such training.
The bill’s website describes it as “an Act to establish the center of excellence in community policing and behavioral health” (Bill H.2401 190th, n.d.). In practice, this means it would “create a statewide training program to teach police how to respond safely when confronting people with mental illness and drug problems” (Levenson 2017, p.4).
In Milton, a suburb of Boston, 25 percent of all calls officers respond to are related to people struggling with a mental illness. Because of this statistic, Milton has put in place a variation of Bill H.2401’s proposed program, with its officers undergoing 40 hours of mental health training and eight hours of de-escalation classes.
Milton’s police chief, John King, said of the program, “Officers are [now] less likely to pound on the door, force their way in, and arrest the person involved. Instead, officers are trained to talk to the person in crisis and enlist the help of family members or a mental health counselor” (Levenson 2017, p.14).
King also spoke in support of the bill on July 18, telling legislators, “How we respond to these substance abuse and mental health crises can literally mean the difference between life and death” (Levenson 2017, p.17).
He also encouraged them to ensure that the training was available to police departments in small towns that may not receive grants to fund the program, as larger cities might.
“How we respond to these substance abuse and mental health crises can literally mean the difference between life and death,” King persisted.
King was right; according to the Boston Globe, “nearly half of the people killed by Massachusetts police over the previous 11 years were suicidal, mentally ill, or showed clear signs of crisis” (Levenson 2017, p.7). With only 20 percent of Massachusetts’ police departments providing training similar to that provided in Milton, there seems to be a clear path, or at least a clear stepping stone, to fix this statistic.
Legislators indicated support for Bill H.2401 at the hearing Tuesday, with no one testifying in opposition.
For more on this topic please read, “Mental health advocates and others call for crisis training.”
Bill H.2401 190th. (n.d.). Retrieved July 20, 2017, from https://malegislature.gov/Bills/190/H2401
Rinaldi, J. (2017, July 18). Mental health advocates and others call for crisis training for police – The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 20, 2017, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/07/18/mental-health-advocates-and-others-call-for-crisis-training-for-police/LfTVbARxVz9os1zJxT9TfO/story.html