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Singleton Measure to Require Police Training on Proper Response to Mental Health, Substance Use Disorders Clears Committee

1 in 4 Killed in Officer-Involved Shootings Had Serious Mental Illness

Legislation Assemblyman Troy Singleton sponsored to help keep law enforcement officers, individuals experiencing mental health crises and the general public safe during police interventions was advanced Monday by an Assembly committee.

“New Jersey’s dedicated law enforcement officers work hard – often putting themselves in harm’s way – to protect the public. In order to do that very difficult job as best as they can, it’s important for these officers to be prepared to assist individuals who may be dealing with mental health or substance use disorders,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “The responsibility of responding to emergencies of this nature increasingly has fallen on the shoulders of police officers who, unfortunately, may not have been trained on the best way to de-escalate the situation.”

The bill (A-3797) would require training for law enforcement officers to include guidance on interacting with individuals who may have behavior health issues. Under the bill, the Department of Law and Public Safety, in collaboration with the Department of Human Services, would adopt or endorse a training curriculum for law enforcement officers concerning police interactions with people who have behavioral health issues, including those who may have a mental illness, a substance use disorder or both.

The curriculum required by the bill must include guidance on recognizing the systems of behavioral illness and techniques for de-escalation and intervention. The curriculum also must include the following subjects: suicide prevention techniques, effects of commonly-prescribed prescription medication used to treat behavioral health disorders, local treatment options and community resources, methods of determining appropriate treatment options and standards for involuntary commitment.

“The criminal justice system too often regards living with a mental illness as a crime. A person who really needs support from a psychiatrist may end up arrested and in jail – sometimes on multiple occasions – or the victim of excessive force, because an officer perceives abnormal behavior as a threat instead of a symptom,” said Singleton. “While law enforcement officers cannot be expected to reform the behavioral health care system altogether, proper training for officers can play an important role in connecting people to the help they need.”

One in four individuals killed in an officer-involved shooting had a serious mental illness, and 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.