Mental health professionals would assist law enforcement officers who respond to calls from people in crisis, under legislation introduced this week by Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland and Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.
The legislation incorporates one of the key recommendations of the legislative task force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing on which Frockt served and Goodman co-chaired: recognizing and better understanding the impact of mental health in deadly force situations.
“The task force flagged the need for an emphasis on mental health concerns, and this addresses that need head on,” said Frockt, the sponsor of Senate Bill 5970. “When officers respond to calls where someone is known to be dealing with mental health issues, the presence of a mental health professional might help make the difference in whether the situation escalates or de-escalates.”
Under the pilot program proposed by Goodman and Frockt, the mental health professional would receive specialized training and would accompany law enforcement officers as “co-responders” on calls requiring crisis intervention, conduct follow-up investigations, and share best practices.
“The debate about police use of deadly force continues, but there are other tools we can begin using today to drive down the incidents of violent interactions with police,” said Goodman, who introduced the companion House Bill 2234. “Deploying mental health professionals with law enforcement as ‘co-responder’ teams in specific critical types of incidents should help reduce violent interactions and deaths in our communities.”
“We know that mental health has been an issue in a number of recent incidents around the state where deadly force was used,” Frockt said. “We need to think creatively about better interventions. California, Wisconsin, Maine, Utah, Texas and Florida, among others, have implemented programs like this that have seen success in crisis intervention. They’ve de-escalated dangerous situations and helped direct people to mental health treatment instead of incarceration. And we certainly need more mental health treatment options for people in crisis.”
The legislation would award grants for pilot programs at two law enforcement agencies, one in Western Washington and one in Eastern Washington. Each agency would use its grant to establish at least four intervention response teams. Each crisis intervention team would include one experienced law enforcement officer who has completed enhanced crisis intervention training and one person designated as a mental health professional.