October 01, 2020

Van Hollen, Bass Introduce New Community-Based Crisis Response Legislation

Bill Aims to Reduce Law Enforcement Involvement in Situations That Are Better Served by a Social Services-Based Response

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and U.S. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.) were joined by local and national justice advocates to announce new legislation to improve our emergency response capabilities by creating systemic alternatives to police involvement, especially where it could lead to unnecessary escalation. Their new legislation, the Community-Based Response Act, creates a new Community-Based Emergency and Non-Emergency Response Grant Program through the Department of Health and Human Services to establish programs to provide an additional option beyond law enforcement for community-based emergency response. The bill will promote an additional option for a community-based response in emergency situations, allowing the dispatch of professionals trained in mental and behavioral health or crisis response instead of law enforcement. As shown by new polling, this approach receives widespread support from the American people, regardless of political affiliation

Senator Van Hollen and Representative Bass were joined on the call today by Clint Odom, Senior Vice President, Policy & Advocacy and Executive Director, Washington Bureau of the National Urban League; Kate Chatfield, Director of Policy for The Justice Collaborative; Erricka Bridgeford, Executive Director at the Baltimore Community Mediation Center and founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire movement; and Aaron Maybin, Maryland advocate and art activist. 

Video of the press conference can be found here, and a one-pager on the legislation can be found here. 

“Too often police are required to respond to situations that they are neither trained nor equipped to resolve. And too often these situations can lead to tragedy. That’s why I’m introducing legislation to create community-based response systems that dispatch professionals trained in mental and behavioral health or crisis response for those many situations where an alternative to law enforcement is more suitable. Building this capacity can both avoid unjust outcomes and provide individuals with the support they need. And, it’s a crucial part of the effort to make structural changes to address systemic racism and stop criminalizing poverty, substance use disorders, and mental health conditions. I’m proud to introduce the Community-Based Response Act with Representative Karen Bass – and to have worked with so many Maryland and national justice organizations to develop this proposal. It’s past time for our country to step up and make changes,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“Every year, hundreds of families call the police out of desperation when family members suffering from mental illness experience a crisis. In too many cases, law enforcement responds with unnecessary force resulting in injury or death. This legislation provides resources for an appropriate response. It is time to reform policing in this country and this bill is a part of that push. I encourage my colleagues to support this important piece of legislation,” said Representative Karen Bass. 

"After months of conversations meetings and consulting with the offices of both Senator Van Hollen and congresswoman Bass, I’m excited about endorsing this bill. In the aftermath of all of the protests and demonstrations surrounding state sanctioned violence against people of color, I’ve been Focused on the ways in which we could address these injustices through legislation. I’m thankful for being able help develop a different and more efficient emergency response system. I'm honored to be able to continue to work with amazing Women like Erricka Bridgeford to make sure our communities are heard, seen, and prioritized in the policy that we influence. We all know that over policing our communities does not work.  We need solution based responses to these problems led by people with proper training and real grassroots experience, the people who are doing the real work in the trenches every day. Again, This is simply a first step in a long uphill process of getting this bill passed. But the first step in any journey is the most important one,” said Aaron Maybin. 

“Over-policing causes consistent trauma in our communities and unnecessary pressure and exhaustion for police officers. In my work in community mediation and in the Baltimore ceasefire movement, we’re often dealing with people in the aftermath of how over-policing has impacted their lives. And if officers had the ability to refer people to the help and services they need, it would help officers build stronger relationships in the communities they serve. This is not a proposal for a quick fix – it’s not a knee-jerk reaction. It is instead a plan to give the needed time and resources to build more healthy response systems, and it ensures that these systems can’t possibly be built without including the people who are most impacted by over-policing and the service providers that can help them,” said Erricka Bridgeford. 

“In this moment of national reckoning, where impacted communities have taken to the streets to demand a response from Congress that meets the scale of this crisis, Senator Van Hollen and Representative Bass's Community Emergency Response Act is a profound step forward,” said Kate Chatfield. “Civilian first responders are a commonsense solution supported by local communities, voters, and, significantly, by many police officers themselves — who recognize that they are not mental health professionals, drug counselors, or social workers. Police officers spend far too much time responding to calls that they are not equipped to handle or that do not demand a police response, including those relating to homelessness and other non-criminal matters. This bill provides important funding for communities and local governments who have long seen the need to get the right people to a problem. It will undoubtedly help make our communities safer.” 

“Over the past 4 months, millions of Americans have protested against systemic racism and demanded transformational changes to policing in this country. Senator Van Hollen and Representative Bass's Community Emergency Response Act answers these calls by reducing unnecessary interactions between police and marginalized communities,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League. “Too often police officers are called to respond when a mental health professional or a social worker would be more effective and appropriate. Senator Van Hollen and Representative Bass’s bill will support local governments and community-based organizations with the necessary resources to establish and train human services response units to resolve conflicts that law enforcement officers are ill equipped to handle. The Community Emergency Response Act will help reduce hostile and fatal police encounters and provide those in need with the most appropriate assistance.” 

Across the country law enforcement officers respond to emergency calls related to situations that do not actually require a police-driven response. Some of these emergency calls relate to mental health or substance use disorder crises, check-ins for health and safety, a lack of housing or health care, and emergencies involving populations in need or who have historically faced discrimination. According to a recent report from The Justice Collaborative, in some jurisdictions, police spend more time on mental health-related calls than on burglaries or felony assaults. From 2008 to 2018, the number of 911 calls to report “emotionally disturbed persons” to the New York Police Department doubled, reaching nearly 180,000 unique calls in a year. 

In many of these situations, communities would be better served by having an additional option for a community-based response that would dispatch professionals trained in mental and behavioral health or crisis response instead of law enforcement. This would help target the best professional intervention to the person in need and allow for the connection to immediate and ongoing services. Additionally, it could help avoid escalation of a crisis by involving law enforcement in a manner that can result in unnecessary arrests and incarceration and create increased risk of harm. In fact, studies of available data have shown that as many as half of the individuals killed by law enforcement have a disability; and people with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. Existing social services-based emergency response models have demonstrated an ability to diffuse and resolve non-violent crisis situations and connect individuals with ongoing services and support, while also saving money. 

The bill is also supported by a wide range of Maryland and national advocacy groups including: The Justice Collaborative, National Urban League, National Action Network, Vera Institute of Justice, CASA, Center for American Progress, National Homelessness Law Center, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of Black Social Workers, American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare, PolicyLink, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Greater Baltimore Urban League, Baltimore Child Abuse Center, Citizens Policing Project, Beyond Youth Organizing  

“The Community Based Response Act recognizes that our communities can often be better served by providing a community based mental health and behavior health response, instead of a law enforcement response.  This will allow the police to concentrate their efforts on public safety, while people with mental health and behavioral health problems receive a more compassionate response,” said Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore. 

JoAnne Stanton, BUILD Public Safety Chair and Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, BUILD Clergy Co-Chair said, “The Community Emergency Response Act will help stop treating mental health crises in our communities as police events and fund the mental health professionals that we need to bring healing to our neighborhoods.” 

“We must re-imagine public safety and enact police reforms in our communities. Social workers and other health providers are frequently the  most appropriate first responders for many calls to 911. Social workers have expertise in resolving the problems and crises akin to emergency mental health and social care needs,” said Angelo Mclain, Ph.D., LICSW, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers. 

“The National Association of Black Social Workers supports the Community Response Act. Allowing trained professionals to save lives and decriminalizing challenging behavior is the right thing to do. Utilizing culturally responsive strength-based techniques designed to de-escalate challenging behaviors and connect those in crisis with community representatives and resources can save lives and build strong communities,” said Melissa Haley, LMSW, Interim President of the National Association of Black Social Workers. 

“Community-based responses to crises are critical to the safety of Black people, Indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities—and all those who are targeted by police violence. Communities and families that have been impacted by policing have always worked to create community-led safety solutions that support people in crisis, it is time for state and federal government to invest in these critical, life-saving programs,” said Marc Philpart, Managing Director of PolicyLink, and Principal Coordinator of the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color.