Congress passes bill to fund police de-escalation training – Boston News, Weather, Sports

WASHINGTON (AP) — In one of its final acts of the year, the House of Representatives late Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation that would authorize law enforcement agencies across the country to conduct de-escalation training as part of their efforts to reduce the number of people with mental health problems Fatalities involving officers.

Passed with Republican support in 264-162, the bill capped a modest two-year effort by Congress to pass police reform legislation after the killing of George Floyd sparked global protests against police brutality.

The proposal, first tabled by Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, will now go to President Joe Biden’s desk for signature.

“By providing law enforcement with the tools they need to help people experiencing mental health emergencies and other crises, we can help make communities safer by building a stronger bridge between the criminal justice system and mental health care.” , Cornyn said in a statement late Wednesday.

The final passage of the bill comes months after the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan package of public safety bills, including similar legislation that would see investments in de-escalation training and mental health resources for public officials. This package was never discussed in the Senate.

The issue is a perennial favorite for the nation. While nearly one in five US adults has a mental illness, untreated people are 16 times more likely to be killed in a police operation than other people approached by law enforcement, the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to treating the mentally ill prescribed ill, in a 2015 report completed.

The bill, passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, amends a 1968 federal crimes statute to authorize $70 million in annual grants for law enforcement training on alternatives to the use of force, which includes scenario-based drills for officers. In addition, the Department of Justice must develop a range of curricula and training topics in collaboration with stakeholders such as law enforcement and civil rights groups and mental health professionals.

“Whether it’s Rodney King or George Floyd or any of the many incidents we’ve seen over the past 30 years, how the police deal with violence is at the heart of the discussion about policing,” Wexler said. Executive Director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank. “And what we have found in the last five to eight years is that the training is outdated. It is not in line with current practices.”

The organization Wexler oversees is the country’s leading policing think tank, and they have been turned to by law enforcement groups large and small to educate their officers on the alternatives to the use of force. The two-day training now has a long waiting list.

The training effort began five years ago after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, in Ferguson, Missouri, and has since been updated with fresh techniques. The idea originated in the UK, where most officers don’t carry handguns, Wexler said. It’s a mix of classroom training and scenarios played out with actors to give officers time to work through what they’ve learned.

The aim is to conduct the training with as many of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies as possible. But despite bipartisan support for the effort, some mental health advocates believe they won’t solve the root problem.

“You can allocate as much training and de-escalation funding to the programs as you like, but it doesn’t necessarily solve many of the problems associated with law enforcement’s risk of death among people with serious mental illness,” he told Elizabeth Sinclair Hancq, Research Director of the Treatment Advocacy Center and author of the 2015 report.

That’s because law enforcement’s role is to enforce public safety, she added, and not to be providers of mental health crises.

“I think this is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go before we prevent such encounters between people with mental illness and the police,” Hancq said.


Associated Press writer David Sharp of Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)

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