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Daniel’s Law Would Send a Mental Health Responder to a Person in Crisis

Patti Singer
pattisinger@minorityreporter.net

Joe Prude speaks at an online news conference Feb. 4, 2021 about introduction of Daniel’s Law, named after his brother. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group from Zoom videoconference

Under a proposed state law championed by the Rochester delegation, a mental health professional would first to respond to a person in crisis.

Daniel’s Law was introduced Feb. 3 by Assemblyman Harry Bronson and Senator Samra Brouk to ensure that a 911 call for someone in a mental health or substance abuse results in the appropriately qualified professionals being dispatched through 911 or perhaps even a new number dedicated for behavioral health calls.

The law is named for Daniel Prude, who died last March while in police custody after his brother called 911 out of fear for his well-being.

“This law would have a good chance of preventing what happened to Daniel Prude,” Bronson said during an online news conference Feb. 4 to announce the bill.

Advocates Ashley Gantt and Stanley Martin of Free the People Roc, mental health advocate Melanie Funchess and Joe Prude joined Bronson, Brouk and other members of the Rochester delegation.

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

The supporters underscored the need for such legislation after the Jan. 29 incident in which Rochester police officers responded to a call about a stolen car and then encountered a 9-year-old in distress. Officers ultimately placed her in handcuffs and used pepper spray when she did not comply with instructions to get fully into a patrol car.

“Our current system for supporting community members in crisis is broken …,” Brouk said.

No timeline was given for the journey of Daniel’s Law through the state legislature.

As submitted, the bill would change state public health law in order to establish a “state mental health response council, regional mental health response councils and mental health response units; to amend the county law, in relation to incorporation of recommendations by the New York state mental health response council for public safety answering points; and to amend the mental hygiene law, in relation to powers of certain peace officers and police officers handling mental health emergencies …”

The stated purposes are:

  • to ensure a public health response to anyone in a mental health or substance abuse crisis;
  • deescalate a situation and avoid use of force whenever possible;
  • ensure the most appropriate treatment;
  • maximize voluntary treatment;
  • minimize the number of people in a crisis;
  • minimize the number of people who experience physical harm or trauma while in a crisis; and
  • provide culturally competent care.

The statewide council will set the overall protocol, but it will be left to each region to determine how best to meet the objectives.

Even though the proposal is 26 pages and provides some details, legislation gets hashed out as it goes through the process.

“If there is a valid concern, if there is a suggested tweak, we’re going to do our best to listen to all of that and come up with a product in the final passage of the legislation, that is going to work and be effective.”

Rochester and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office have been deploying a mental health response to some calls, but that has been in conjunction with law enforcement. Rochester recently launched a pilot program for a Person in Crisis Team of social workers or mental health professionals. Under the pilot, the team responds only to three types of calls where no crime has been committed, there is no violence and there is no active suicide attempt.

Under current pilot protocols, the PIC team was not eligible to be called when police encountered the distressed child.

Each police department in the county has pledged to train all its road officers in crisis intervention.

Daniel’s Law would call for mental health response councils at the state and local level. Bronson said funding would come from the Office of Mental Health and from reallocating public safety money.

Bronson said he hoped the councils would not become bureaucracies but would be frameworks for “transformative change.”

Gantt said the bill was not created on idealistic fantasies but is based on the experiences of mental health professionals and the people who live with mental health challenges.

“We know there is a better way,” she said, calling Daniel’s Law “the first step for a much needed change in mental health crisis response. (It) promotes a system that works towards decriminalizing and mental health crisis issues. When these calls are made, what is needed first and foremost is care and support.”

The incident with the child on Jan. 29 led another advocacy group to call for a city or county law against handcuffing or using pepper spray on children.

Community Justice Initiative on Feb. 2 called for passage of Nailah’s Law, named after a 10-year-old who in 2020 was placed in handcuffs when the car in which she was a passenger was stopped on Route 104.

Diallo Payne of CJI said Nailah’s Law is in its formative stages. He said the intent was for a local ordinance that could be enacted quicker than something on the state level. He said a local law also could serve as an example for other jurisdictions.