Legislature OKs More Mental Health Training for Peace Officers

September 03, 2015

SACRAMENTO – Senator Jim Beall’s twin bills to increase training for peace officers to improve their ability to safely cope with people who have mental illnesses or developmental disabilities were approved this week by the Legislature, drawing bipartisan support. Senate Bills 11 and 29 will be sent to Governor Brown for his consideration.

“Because of a broken mental health system, our officers have been thrust on the frontlines of helping people with mental illnesses. But we have not given them the knowledge and the necessary training needed to dial down volatile confrontations,’’ Beall said. “Together, SB 11 and 29, will solve that problem by ensuring a uniform standard of training for every law enforcement officer in California.’’

Beall introduced the bills in the wake of news reports revealing 10 of the 22 police shootings from 2004 to 2009 in Santa Clara County involved people suffering from mental illness and after meeting with the family of a young San Jose woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was shot and killed by an officer last year as she was holding a power drill that appeared to resemble a gun.

The bills also were supported by Katherine Decker, the mother of Michael Johnson, a San Jose police officer was fatally shot on March 24, 2015, while responding to a 911 call involving a suicidal man who was armed.

Decker, who testified on behalf of the bills last month before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, said today SB 11 and 29 are crucial additions to officers’ training that will increase safety. “These bills are a good start,’’ she said. “They are step in the right direction.’’

The bills drew widespread support from law enforcement groups and mental health rights advocates, including the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs; the California Association of Highway Patrolmen; California Police Chiefs Association; the American Civil Liberties Union of California; NAMI of California; and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.

In addition, 13 legislators signed on as co-authors on SB 11, which was co-introduced with Senator Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles. Senate Bill 29 had 10 co-authors.

Senate Bill 11, which was approved on Wednesday, calls for at least 15 hours of behavioral health training at academies for new recruits. The current standard is six hours.

Under SB 29, officers who conduct field training for newly hired officers will receive at least eight hours of crisis intervention. The bill fills a gap in existing California Peace Officer Standards and Training curriculum which does not mandate a prescribed number of hours of behavioral health training for instructors in the Field Training program.

The bill also addresses issues related to stigma and also instructs offices on culturally appropriate procedures. SB 29 was passed by the Legislature on Thursday.

“The absence of effective mental health training manifests itself in many ways – all damaging,’’ Beall said. “With proper training, police and sheriff’s departments can reduce workers compensation liability costs as well as use-of-force lawsuits and eliminate highly publicized confrontations that have eroded the public’s trust in law enforcement. I believe SB 11 and 29 can achieve that."