Lawmakers propose mental health co-responders to help law enforcement

KING 5's Heather Graf reports.

The police shooting death of Charleena Lyles has now led to new legislation introduced Wednesday in Olympia.  Lawmakers behind the bill hope it would help law enforcement officers avoid the use of deadly force by adding mental health professionals as "co-responders."

Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Roger Goodman sponsored the proposal.  Both previously served on a legislative task force that highlighted the need for a better understanding of the impact of mental health in deadly force situations. The two lawmakers believe Senate Bill 5970 and House Bill 2234 address that need.

Frockt told KING 5 he felt now was the time to introduce the bill, given recent public outcry over the death of Charleena Lyles.

"This is a tragedy on numerous levels, so we have to try to do better.  We have to try to do better," he said.

Thirty-year-old Lyles was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers on the morning of June 18.  The officers responding to a burglary call at her home knew going in that Lyles had a history of mental health issues.  SPD has said the officers shot Lyles after she threatened them with a knife.

"The basic idea of this bill to to try to put what we call a crisis intervention response team - a social worker, a designated mental health professional - to travel or be on-call with officers on a limited basis, on certain calls that we know might involve emotionally disturbed persons or calls where there might be a mental health issue involved," said Frockt.  "To give them another angle to try to work with that individual, hopefully so it doesn't result in a violent encounter."

Mental health professionals on the "co-responder" teams would receive special training and help with crisis intervention, follow-up investigations, and sharing best practices with police officials.

If approved, the legislation would provide two state law enforcement agencies with grant money to launch a pilot program. The agencies would be required to create four intervention teams, complete with a crisis intervention-trained police officer and a mental health professional.

"We want to try it out, measure it to see how it works, see how many calls they respond to, what the intervention result is," said Frockt.  "We'll see if it works, and see if it's something we should implement on a wider basis across the state."

Other states like California, Wisconsin, Maine, Utah, Texas and Florida have similar programs in place, which Frockt says have helped get people connected with services rather than lethal force or jail time.

“The debate about police use of deadly force continues, but there are other tools we can begin using today to drive down the incidents of violent interactions with police,” Goodman, said. “Deploying mental health professionals with law enforcement as ‘co-responder’ teams in specific critical types of incidents should help reduce violent interactions and deaths in our communities.”

Frockt admits he has already heard some criticism from members of the law enforcement community, who have expressed safety concerns about civilian mental health professionals accompanying officers on potentially dangerous calls.

But by starting the conversation now, he hopes they'll have time to work through those issues and possibly get the bill passed during next year's legislative session.

"In my mind, if we don't start trying different ideas and seeing what may work, we're never going to get anywhere, and we're just going to keep having these tragedies arise over and over again," he said.

 

KING 5's Bryce Newberry contributed to this report.

© 2017 KING-TV


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