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Legislators, mental health advocates voice support for Daniel’s Law

by WayneTimes.com
February 6, 2021

by Tanner Jubenville & WHAM Staff
News Partners

(WHAM) - A cohort of lawmakers, social justice and mental health advocates, and relatives of Daniel Prude gathered virtually Thursday morning to propose a new piece of legislation aimed to bring mental health professionals to 911 calls.

Daniel’s Law is being put forth in the New York State Legislature by Assemblyman Harry Bronson, D-138 and State Sen. Samra Brouk, D-55. It establishes state and regional councils for mental health responses to crisis situations. Under those councils, mental health professionals would be among the first responders to emergencies involving mental health and substance abuse.

“This would give it more structure,” said Bronson regarding the proposal to create local and state councils to oversee the program. “And they would have to submit annual reports to the state so we have oversight over what’s happening.”

Bronson said giving it such “structure” would ensure “lasting effectiveness.”

“I think it’s going to have long term effectiveness because it creates the structure and framework for the development of policy, development of procedures on mental health crisis calls,” said Bronson. 

The bill is named for Daniel Prude, who died on March 30, 2020 - one week after an encounter with Rochester Police officers during which he was detained, had a spit hood placed over his head and ultimately stopped breathing while being held down. Prude was naked and high on PCP at the time - but also experiencing a mental health crisis, according to family members who called 911.

“Now is time to put in the work to transform our systems and make sure we don’t see a tragedy like Daniel Prude’s death ever again,” said Brouk. 

Lawmakers say current mental health response teams, like FACET, FIT, and the City of Rochester’s newly created Person In Crisis or PIC team, would be among those responding to calls. 

“This envisions teams like what the city has put together and what the county has put together, that they would be the certified mental health response unit. This is really balancing state and local,” said Bronson.

Part of the legislation would require 911 dispatchers to be trained to dispatch the proper response for help. 

“It also has some mechanisms with 911, and there’s also a training component that would help people understand when it should be a mental health response versus a law enforcement response,” said Bronson.

“If a situation merits it, based on the mental health’s professional’s analysis and expertise, there’s an ability to call in law enforcement,” he added. 

Part of the bill includes the creation of a curriculum within the SUNY system to train mental health and substance abuse clinicians on how to better handle calls in brown and black communities.

“We are looking to have culturally competent, culturally responsive intervention on the practice level,” said Melanie Funchess, the Director of Community Engagement for the Mental Health Association of Rochester.

“We are looking at the education level to modify and change the way we train clinicians, so when people are coming out of training they are coming out with a better toolkit in how to deal with Black and Brown families,” said Funchess. 

Representatives with Free the People ROC, as well as advocates for mental health, and other lawmakers, joined the legislators to voice their support for the bill. Joe Prude, Daniel’s brother, said this is an example of systemic racism that needs to be brought to light and be changed.

“Mental illness is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be treated that way,” Prude said. “With that passage of this legislation, I know that people will get the proper treatment to help them get their lives back on track.”

Attorneys for the seven Rochester Police officers who have been suspended said their clients followed their training.

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