STATE HOUSE – Legislation (2016-H 7259 / 2016-S 2401) sponsored by Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi and Sen. Stephen R. Archambault that requires training for law enforcement officers on mental health and substance abuse emergencies was signed into law today by Governor Raimondo at a ceremonial bill signing at the State House.
“There have been too many needless tragedies in the news because police officers did not have the proper training to assess and properly deal with situations involving individuals with mental illnesses,” said Representative Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “This legislation will prevent similar tragedies from happening within our state and keep everyone involved in these crisis situations safe and secure.”
“Between 7 and 10 percent of all law enforcement calls involve a person with mental illness,” said Senator Archambault (D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Providence, Johnston). “This presents a tremendous challenge to our law enforcement officials. And this law will make certain that they possess the skills necessary not only to recognize mental health problems and deal with them accordingly, but to ensure the personal safety of the officer in what could potentially be a volatile situation. Establishing a program that trains law enforcement officers in handling and defusing mental health crisis situations is a benefit for everyone involved: officers, victims, suspects, witnesses and ultimately even taxpayers.”
The legislation requires the Commission on Standards and Training to provide training and instructions for police officers and trainees in order to more accurately identify complaints involving mental health or substance abuse emergencies and to develop law enforcement responses to such emergencies.
The bill also contains language that calls for the creation of a course of instruction that complies with the certified National Council of Behavioral Health Mental Health First Aid Program. The course is designed to provide information to law enforcement officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses and substance use disorders, de-escalate crisis situations safely and initiate timely referral to mental health and substance abuse resources available in the community.