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Bill would allow real-world test of mental health alternative to policing

Initiative for non-violent interventions

Quinci LeGardye California Black Media | 10/1/2020, midnight

In the wake of recent calls to shift responsibility for non-violent intervention away from police departments, California lawmakers and community advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign AB 2054, also known as the CRISES Act. 

CRISES (Community Response Initiative to Strengthen Emergency Systems) calls for the authorization of a pilot grant program that would allow community-based organizations instead of the police to respond in emergency situations, including incidents requiring mental health intervention, which often involve people experiencing homelessness. 

Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager (D-54), the author of AB 2054 and a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, hosted a press conference Sept. 22 featuring community advocates and family members of individuals who were killed by police officers while experiencing mental health crises. 

When police officers are sent to de-escalate these crises, encounters sometimes turn violent. A 2015 Treatment Advocacy Center survey found that at least one in four people killed by law enforcement were suffering from acute mental illness at the time of their death. Also, a 2015 Police Executive Research Forum study revealed that police officers only receive an average of eight hours of mental health intervention training compared to nearly 60 hours of gun training that they undergo. 

“Interactions with police can induce terror in many people who historically have been traumatized by law enforcement,” said Kamlager. “Too often, these interactions are deadly. Too often, people just want solutions to their problems. They just want an emergency or a crisis solved, but they are afraid to call the police because of the potential consequences.”  

Addie Kitchen is the grandmother of Steven Taylor, a Black man who was killed in April by San Leandro police while going through a mental crisis and experiencing homelessness. 

“It took them 40 seconds to kill Stephen, 40 seconds,” said Kitchen. When that officer walked in and saw he was Black and homeless, he already had in his mind, what he needed to do. He didn’t think about, you know, maybe let me step back.”

Kitchen also spoke about how Taylor’s death devastated her family, including his two sons. 

“Nobody in the world should have to go through losing someone -- by the police,” Kitchen said. “If he had died because he got hit by a car, that wouldn’t have been so hard. But when the police—they’re supposed to protect us -- are murdering us because we’re Black, because we’re poor, because we’re homeless, because we’re going through a mental crisis, we need help. We need help and we are praying that the governor will understand what we’re going through.”

Lateefah Simon, Bay Area Rapid Transportation (BART) board director echoed that the community groups already doing the work need more funding. 

“AB 2054 is truly a love letter to possibility, an idea that communities can keep one another safe,” she said. “That local community-based organizations and trained professionals in selected communities, if given the resources and the opportunity, can become an additional force to create safety.”