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Aid for Police in Handling Mentally Ill

Police officers need to handle mentally ill people a little differently than others, and many of them just don’t understand how to do that properly, according to state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), author of two bills signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) late last week.

“Existing state-mandated police officer training and departmental training has been inadequate, fueling highly publicized conflicts between officers and people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities that have eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement,” Beall said in a written statement.

Brown signed SB 11 and SB 29 into law Friday. The bills are designed to provide peace officers training to deal with the mentally ill.

“SB 11 and SB 29 increase the amount of specialized training officers will receive, better equipping them to help people with mental illnesses and avoid injuries,” Beall said. “These bills are essential in a day and age where officers are now the first responders for incidents involving untreated mental illness.”

Beall said he hopes costs to the state will decrease if there are fewer lawsuits around excessive use of force in police incidents with the mentally ill.

Under the new laws, new police officers will undergo at least 15 hours of instruction. For current officers, a continuing education program is being developed by the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. Also, any supervisors in the police force who do field training must undergo 12 hours of training to deal with people with behavioral health issues.

Jessica Cruz, executive director of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness California, said police officers often are the ones who encounter and confront mentally ill people in California, and it’s imperative they understand what’s motivating them.

“As family members, we often rely on law enforcement for help when a loved one experiences a mental health crisis,” Cruz said. “It is essential that law enforcement officers have the tools and training necessary to identify and de-escalate situations involving mental illness.”

In 2014 a cell phone video captured the image of a California Highway Patrol officer standing over an older woman and hitting her. The woman had bipolar disorder, and she successfully sued the state for $1.5 million.

The commission has until August 2016 to develop its continuing education program.

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