|Posted:||April 26, 2021 02:06 PM|
|From:||Representative Morgan Cephas|
|To:||All House members|
|Subject:||Developing Behavioral Health Crisis Response Units in Local Police Departments|
Recent tragedies involving law enforcement, including the tragic death of Walter Wallace Jr., in West Philadelphia last fall, have led many to call for the defunding of law enforcement agencies and reallocating resources to public health initiatives. Since the 1990s, police budgets have continued to increase despite crime rates remaining stagnant. At the same time, funding for public health has seen sharp decreases. When responding to calls involving behavioral health related crises, officers need to have a unique skill set that is distinct from that provided to officers in traditional law enforcement trainings; a skill set that many officers are not equipped with.
In order to address this disparity, I will be introducing legislation that requires local police departments to establish Behavioral Health Crisis Response Units (BHRUs) within the department to respond to emergency calls involving mental health crises, homelessness, and/or substance abuse. Non-law enforcement teams will be dispatched by 911 operators as a first response to behavioral health related crises. As determined by the response team, law enforcement teams may be requested as back-up.
Similar programs, like Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets (CAHOOTS) of Eugene, OR, have had great success assisting people in need of non-emergency medical care and behavioral health crises. CAHOOTS estimates that their program has saved taxpayers an average of $8.5 million a year in public safety costs alone, in part by responding to and ultimately resolving 17% of the city Police Department’s overall call volume. In 2019, out of a total of roughly 24,000 CAHOOTS calls, police backup was requested only 150 times.
To support this initiative, the legislation will also require the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime & Delinquency (PCCD) to establish a fund which will allocate dollars to local municipalities across the state to implement Behavioral Health Response Units within their departments.
As we work to reduce the number of police involved fatalities across the nation, I hope that you will join me in sponsoring this vital piece of legislation so that we can better serve our communities and protect our most vulnerable populations.