Improved Mental Health Training for Peace Officers Wins Governor's Approval

October 03, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Legislation by Senator Jim Beall that focuses on improving the ability of peace officers to safely deal with people who have mental illnesses was signed into law by Governor Brown today. Senate Bills 11 and 29 become effective on Jan. 1, 2016.

“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,’’ said Beall, who chairs the Senate’s Select Committee on Mental Health.

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

“Another positive effect we’ll see from these bills are reductions in use-of-force litigation and lower workers compensation liability costs for police and sheriff’s departments.’’

SB 11 and 29 are a response to mounting public concern over dangerous interactions between police and people suffering from mental illness or intellectual disability, such as the July 2014 incident that was captured on a cell phone video of a California Highway Patrol officer straddling a 51-year-old grandmother beside a Southern California highway and punching her in the face. The woman, who has a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, sued the CHP and received a $1.5 settlement.

SB 11 calls for at least 15 hours of behavioral health instruction at academies for new recruits who are training to become police officers and requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop a mental health continuing education course for current police officers.
The current standard is six hours.

Under SB 29, police officers in supervisory roles who conduct field training will receive at least 12 hours of behavioral health training, including eight hours of crisis intervention instruction and an additional four hours in the Field Training Officer program.

Both bills also recognize California’s cultural diversity and require training to be culturally appropriate.

The bills were supported by an array of law enforcement groups, mental health advocates, and individuals, including the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, and NAMI of California. Katherine Decker, the mother of Michael Johnson, a San Jose police officer who was fatally shot on March 24, 2015, by a suicidal man with a rifle, testified on behalf of the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.