In The People's Blog, Updates from Jo

I was honored to be appointed by Senate President Spilka to the Senate Advisory Group on Racial Justice, which generated the initial text of the Reform, Shift + Build Act. My team’s contribution was the shift in protocol for responding to behavioral health incidents within communities. Currently, the vast majority of non-criminal, behavioral health issues are responded to by police officers. This part of the bill would study and encourage a shift in the response protocol for these types of incidents to behavioral health clinicians, who are better equipped to deal with such individuals.

Our goals within the Reform, Shift, + Build Act:

  • Ensure that the Commonwealth no longer defaults to a police-only response to behavioral health crises 
  • Advance and strengthen non-police responses 
  • Support a resource shift from policing to community-based health programs

Center for Responsive Training in Crisis Intervention

The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health currently contains a Center for Police Training in Crisis Intervention. The Center serves as a resource to public safety agencies and police departments for evidence-based mental health and substance use crisis response training programs. The Center gathers current best practices in the field, and then generates and disseminates training programs based on these best practices.

The Reform, Shift + Build Act makes a few changes to the Center. First, section 13 changes the name of the “Center for Police Training in Crisis In Crisis Intervention” to the “Center for Responsive Training in Crisis Intervention,” because the Center serves as a resource for all agencies and organizations engaged in crisis response, such as community based health providers. 

Second, it adds to the duties of the Center. Section 14 directs the Center to promote the use and adequate resourcing of community-based crisis response resources to assist residents when an exclusive police response is not best suited to address the concerns raised, or is inappropriate or unnecessary.

Section 15 adds new components to the Center’s training curriculum. The Center will now be required to include training on de-escalation tactics and techniques in crisis response situations; best practices for protest response that minimize use of force, community policing principles, and training in institutional and structural racism, implicit bias and the history, legacy and impact of racism in the United States.

The Center is overseen by the Community Policing and Behavioral Health Advisory Council. Section 16 of the Reform, Shift + Build Act increases the size of the Council from 11 to 19 members, in order to add representation from mental health groups, emergency response and domestic violence experts, youth violence experts, substance use and abuse experts, and organizations representing people with disabilities. 

Crisis Response Programs

Currently, the Department of Mental Health issues grants to police departments and community health providers to fund the implementation or assistance with crisis response programs. The bill better directs this funding by establishing the Criminal Justice and Community Support Trust Fund. This fund will be used to support current and future jail diversion programs for individuals with mental health and substance use disorder, but has an additional specific mandate to create patient-focused community based ongoing care services for individuals, as well as establish restoration centers for individuals with mental health or substance use disorder who do not belong in jail.

Studying Current Programs Throughout the Commonwealth

There is a range of participation in crisis response programs within police departments across the Commonwealth. Some police departments use grants from the Department of Mental Health to train officers to respond to behavioral health incidents, some to hire clinicians to accompany officers on behavioral health calls, and some have combinations of both.

In order to shift more resources to non-police response in the future, the Reform, Shift + Build Act directs the Council to conduct a study of current and potential crisis intervention models. This will enable the Council to identify effective crisis intervention and jail diversion models and make recommendations for expanding them. The Council must consider alternatives in delivery of emergency services and programs across the commonwealth that reflect specific regional, racial, ethnic and sexual orientation needs and differences.

The Council will commission an independent research or academic organization with experience in similar research to conduct the study, and must consult with interested stakeholders, like the NAACP, ACLU, NASW, NAMI, ABH, and legislators.

Once the study is complete, by January 2022, the Council will submit the findings to the legislature and publish them online for the public. The Council will also hold public hearings throughout the state. By January 2023, the Council will recommend legislation or regulations to advance and strengthen non-police solutions to crisis response and jail diversion. The recommendations will also be used to set the Center’s training program.

Thank You To All Who Contributed!

In researching and planning our contribution to this bill, my office consulted with the Department of Mental Health, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Association for Behavioral Health, the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health, and many more advocacy organizations and agencies. We are incredibly grateful for their expertise and assistance in drafting this portion of the bill and want to acknowledge Senator Cindy Friedman’s long-time leadership in this area.

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