Mental Health Care Not Police

March 31, 2023

Criminal Justice, Disability Justice, Health Justice, News, Transforming Mental Health Crisis Response

We need a healthcare response to mental health crises, not police!

We need your help to protect the rights of our neighbors, friends, and family members with mental health and substance use conditions. 

Studies show that up to half of people who become victims of police violence have a disability — and overwhelmingly, a mental health disability. Tragically, for many New Yorkers, 911 has become the only option for people looking for mental health crisis intervention. Police then arrive at the scene armed with deadly weapons, a lack of mental health training, and a total inability to de-escalate the crises they are assigned to handle. 

The results are devastating. 

In March 2020, Daniel Prude, a Black man, was experiencing an acute mental health crisis when his family called 911 for help. He was naked in the street but posed no risk to any other person. Yet, Rochester Police responded in force, handcuffed him, placed a hood over his head, and held him face down on the cold pavement until he stopped breathing. Daniel Prude was mocked and treated cruelly by officers with no understanding of his needs. Daniel Prude was a man experiencing an obvious mental health crisis, and he deserved care and dignity – but he was denied both. Instead, police killed him. 

And Daniel Prude is but one of far too many individuals facing mental health or substance use crisis who have been killed at the hands of the police, and the vast majority of those killed were people of color. 

It’s clear that mental health crises require health care expertise. But right now, New York relies on the police to respond to mental health and substance use crises. We must treat mental health and substance use as public health issues – not public safety issues for the police. We must end the role of police as the default response to people in crisis. 

Daniel’s Law will: 

  • Create a statewide council of mental health experts, each one of whom must be dedicated to the goals of de-escalation, trauma-informed and culturally-competent care, and avoiding contacts with the criminal system. At least 51% of the council members must have lived mental health or substance use experience. 
  • Provide 24/7 crisis response units, which are mandated to respond in a timely manner which is comparable to police responses to other crises. 
  • Mandate that local mental health response units are trained to de-escalate mental health crises and connect people with the care they need. These mobile teams must respond without law enforcement accompaniment, unless the crisis team determines that someone is in immediate danger. 

With Daniel’s Law – and with funding for the Daniel’s Law pilot which will allow New York to test-drive the crisis response mechanism that is successfully in place around the country — we have an opportunity to implement a bold new vision for community safety that puts the needs of persons experiencing mental health and substance use crises first. 

Take action now to email elected leaders and tell them to include the Daniel’s Law pilot in the FY ’24 budget. 

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