(TRENTON) – An Assembly committee on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) to create a voluntary registry for individuals with mental or developmental disabilities in New Jersey that would be helpful to law enforcement officers and other First Responders
Gusciora drafted the bill after he was approached by a Ewing police officer who read about a mentally disabled man who was allegedly beaten by state troopers in Warren County, and thought there needed to be a better way for law enforcement officers to deal with persons with disabilities. Gusciora also met with several groups that serve individuals with disabilities including ARC Mercer and Autism New Jersey, Inc to discuss ways law enforcement agencies can better serve people with disabilities.
“First Responders often encounter persons with mental or developmentally disabilities in emergency situations,” said Gusciora. “The problem arises when the police or first aid responders mistake any intemperate behavior from individuals at the scene for criminal behavior. There are other instances when an adult with autism or even Alzheimer’s disease becomes lost and is found by law enforcement and they do not know how to calm them or contact their family members who could help.”
“There are other instances when fire or rescue personnel respond to an emergency and likewise encounter mentally ill persons or those with developmentally disabilities, and do not know how to best bring them to safety,” said Vainieri Huttle. “This bill helps bridge the gap, and creates a better understanding so that individuals with mental disabilities are treated with the same care and respect we all deserve.”
According to a Star Ledger report, the state troopers involved in the beating incident of a mentally disabled man were found liable for using unreasonable force during a traffic stop in 2009. The object of the bill however, is to assist law enforcement officers to know ahead of time of any special considerations that should be taken when interacting with a particular individual with mental or developmental disabilities or responding to an emergency. The registry would also help law enforcement when they find such a person who is missing and becomes disorientated.
The bill (A-3403) directs the Department of Law and Public Safety to create a “Voluntary Registry for Individuals with a Mental Illness or Developmental Disability” in order to provide law enforcement agencies with information that would help them assist individuals with a mental illness or developmental disability obtain medical, mental health and social services.
The bill requires that the registry contain the following information:
- the individual’s name, date of birth, telephone number, address, physical description, and photograph;
- any pertinent information related to the individual’s illness or disability, including related symptoms, which may assist law enforcement officers and agencies in interacting with the individual;
- the date on which the information was first entered into the registry and any updates were made pursuant to receipt of a new enrollment and consent form; and
- contact information for at least two of the following: the individual’s primary health care provider; the individual’s case manager; a probation officer; a family member of the individual; or any other person willing to serve as an emergency contact for the individual.
The bill requires the attorney general, in consultation with the commissioners of Human Services and Children and Families, to develop an enrollment and consent form, which would require the written consent of the individual whose information will be entered into the registry, or that of an authorized representative if the individual is a minor, has been adjudicated incapacitated, or lacks decision-making capacity. The bill also requires the creation of a revocation of consent form, which would allow the person or his or her representative to have the information removed from the registry.
“In the end, it makes the job of our law enforcement agencies easier and ensures that vulnerable individuals receive the assistance and care they need,” said Vainieri Huttle.
“This will also alleviate the fears of parents or siblings of mentally or disabled persons who want them to have independence but also have a safety net should they come into contact with first responders who may not otherwise be familiar with their condition,” concluded Gusciora.
The bill was released by the Assembly Human Services Committee.