Bill to require mental health training for New Jersey cops passes committee

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One man standing stunt on a moving motorcycle at the Margate hero thrill show September 5, 2009.

TRENTON –Legislation that would require the Police Training Commission (PTC) to contract with a crisis intervention training center to assist and support counties in developing a Crisis Intervention Team model to provide mental health training to police officers and to help guide them in responding to persons under stress or in psychiatric crisis, was released by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Linda Greenstein, would:

  • require every municipal and county police officer appointed to a police department and force in this State, within five years of the bill’s effective date or by a date determined by the Attorney General, to complete the Crisis Intervention Team model as part of the officer’s in-service training; and
  • develop and implement, in collaboration with the contracted crisis intervention training center, a curriculum that applies the Crisis Intervention Team model to persons experiencing an economic crisis or struggling with a substance abuse disorder who come into contact with law enforcement first responders.

“Too often, we have seen interactions between law enforcement and individuals with mental health disorders result in unfortunate, unintended outcomes simply because of a lack of training and guided procedure by responding officers who might not know enough about people under mental, emotional or physical duress,” said Senator Pou (D-Bergen / Passaic). “This bill will hopefully give our first responders more intense training and resources on how to proceed in such cases, to provide a safer and positive outcome for all involved.”

The legislation, S-2801, which has been welcomed by law enforcement, would implement the “Crisis Intervention Team” model, a best practice jail diversion model originally developed by the Memphis, Tennessee Police Department. It would be implemented in New Jersey as a county-based collaboration of professionals meant to improve interactions between police officers and those individuals they come across on patrol who might be under mental or emotional distress.

“Training in crisis intervention can never come early enough, and can never be reinforced enough for our police and other first responders who interact with people who are really in need of understanding, and may be suffering or acting out because of a lack of medication or support,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The goal of this sort of training and collaborative effort is to guide persons in crisis toward appropriate mental health services, rather than the criminal justice system.”

The bill requires the in-service training to be administered to each municipal and county law enforcement officer within five years of the bill’s effective date, and thus the timing of the associated costs will vary among law enforcement agencies.

The bill cleared committee by a vote of 6-0.