New Bill Reduces and Improves LEO Interaction with Mentally IllLaw enforcement officers know from everyday experience, that some people with serious untreated mental illness are more violent than others. Until now, mental health advocates have convinced the politically correct members of Congress to ignore the reality of increased violence. Instead, they focus their mental health initiatives on softer issues like ‘reducing stigma’ in the higher functioning. That’s about to change.

On the anniversary Sandy Hook massacre, Representative Tim Murphy (R., PA) proposed the “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act” that could dramatically reduce the number of law enforcement interactions with persons with mental illness and improve the outcomes of those interactions. This is important, because as Michael Biasotti, Immediate Past President of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police wrote:

Police and sheriffs are being overwhelmed “dealing with the unintended consequences of a policy change that in effect removed the daily care of our nation’s severely mentally ill population from the medical community and placed it with the criminal justice system.” …This policy change has caused a spike in the frequency of arrests of severely mentally ill persons, prison and jail population and the homeless population…(and) has become a major consumer of law enforcement resources nationwide.”

Representative Murphy’s bill contains important provisions that seek to send care and treatment of the seriously ill back to the mental health system where it belongs and eliminate the need for law enforcement to run a shadow mental health system.

Forces mental health system to stop letting seriously mentally ill go off treatment.  

Most officers know the frequent-flyers and round-trippers by name: Persons with serious mental illnesses who are brought to the hospital, get stabilized, only to find they are released and free to become psychotic again.

The bill will dramatically reduce the need for officers to intervene with the same decompensating mentally ill by funding Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) demonstration programs.  AOT allows courts to order people with serious mental illness and a prior history of arrest, violence or needless hospitalizations, to stay in treatment as a condition of living in the community.

Perhaps more importantly, order the mental health system to provide the treatment. AOT is proven to dramatically reduce the need for officer intervention. After enrollment in AOT, 55% fewer recipients engaged in suicide attempts or physical harm to self; 47% fewer physically harmed others; 46% fewer damaged or destroyed property; 43% fewer threatened physical harm to others; 74% fewer participants experienced homelessness; 83% fewer experienced arrest; 87% fewer experienced incarceration. 48% fewer abused alcohol and drugs.  

End the use of jails and prisons as substitutes for psychiatric hospitals.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called his jail ‘the new asylum” bemoaning mental health advocates who fail to see the direct correlation between cutting psychiatric beds and increasing incarceration.

The nationwide shortage of over 100,000 psychiatric hospital beds has created overloaded jails and an intolerable backup at local emergency rooms. Individuals with mental illness who can’t get hospitalized because of lack of beds, then become dangerous to themselves or others.  Law enforcement is called in—often at risk to the patient and the officer.

Officers who take someone in for an emergency evaluation often have to wait hours only to find out the doctors won’t admit the person.   The lack of hospital beds is primarily due to an obscure provision of Medicaid Law (“IMD Exclusion”) that prevents Medicaid from reimbursing states for mentally ill who need long term hospital care.  Murphy’s bill would address this thereby creating more beds and less need for cells.

Increase role of criminal justice in developing mental health policy. 

Rep. Murphy created an advisory board to the new Assistant Secretary for Mental Health. A new federal advisory board is rarely something to cheer. When populated by the mental health industry, the “solutions” focus on improving mental health, not treating serious mental illness. This ‘eye-off-the-prize’ strategy has led to three times as many Americans being incarcerated with mental illness as hospitalized.

As a result, police, sheriffs, district attorneys and corrections officials—rather than mental health officials—have become the strongest advocates for improved treatment for the seriously mentally ill. Rep. Murphy empowers criminal justice by giving them a strong roll in the new advisory board.

In addition to the usual suspects, the membership will include a person with serious mental illness; a family member of someone with serious mental illness, a judge, law enforcement officer and corrections officer.  No longer will those in charge of mental health policy be able to ignore the criminal justice implications of the mental health systems failures.

Provides money to train Police Officers, Corrections Officials, EMS and first responders “to recognize individuals who have mental illness and how to properly intervene” It will provide funding to local law enforcement departments to train employees.

Requires AG or FBI to collect data to document effect on the criminal justice system of mental health system letting serious mental illness go untreated. 

While justifiable homicides by law enforcement officers are down, the number of justifiable homicides due to an attack by someone with mental illness is up.  \Little data currently little data on the role of mental illness in attacks on officers. In order to document the problem the legislation requires existing federal reports include data on the involvement of mental illness in these incidents.

Requires Comptroller General to report on “the cost of imprisonment for persons who have serious mental illness at the local state and federal level and how to stop it. Historically mental health systems have ignored incarceration and how their policies have increased it. Representative Murphy’s proposal will start to document this, with the goal of changing it. The Comptroller General will report “the number and types of crimes committed by persons with serious mental illness each year, and detail strategies or ideas for preventing these crimes from occurring”

Reduces ability of federally funded lawyers to argue against emergency detention and involuntary treatment of individuals who lack insight into their illness.

Every officer who has tried to help someone with serious mental illness get treatment has been stymied by federally funded lawyers who argue against the commitment, even for psychotic patients. New provisions will make it more difficult for these lawyers to argue against treatment.

The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act is important legislation that will force the mental health system to devote more resources to the most seriously ill. This will let the criminal justice system devote less. This should be welcome news to everyone.

DJ Jaffe is a family member of someone with serious mental illness and Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., an independent, non-partisan, research-based think tank on serious mental illness and violence.