WASHINGTON (WJZ) – A group of lawmakers is hoping new legislation will move forward providing additional mental health resources in the wake of several police-involved shootings of those in distress across the country.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) on Thursday introduced the Community-Based Response Act, aimed at providing resources to groups to respond to mental health crises.
“Too often, those encounters lead to unnecessary escalation and tragic death,” Van Hollen said. “It’s very clear we ask police to do too much.”
The bill would provide $100 million in grants in each of the next five years and $75 million the next two years.
“Mental illness is a health issue and should be addressed in that way,” Bass said.
Advocates argue police are trained differently than behavioral health specialists.
“[Police are] often trained to aggressively enforce the criminal code. They’re not social workers. They’re not drug counselors,” Kate Chatfield of The Justice Collaborative said.
A June report from The Justice Collaborative shows 68% of likely voters support a non-law enforcement emergency responders program.
The bill comes three months to the day after police officers in Baltimore shot Ricky Walker, Jr., while they responding to a call of a mental health crisis.
“The man was shot, but he was dealing with mental health issues,” Baltimore activist Aaron Maybin said. “I think it’s important to understand a proposal like this doesn’t stop police from being involved.”
The Baltimore Consent Decree Monitoring Team Wednesday released a report calling for “24/7 around-the-clock crisis centers and expanding the presently limited availability of mobile crisis teams.”