Red corded telephone handset on blue background, top view. Hotline concept

To Promote Health Equity, States Must Restrict Police Intervention in Mobile Crisis Response

By April Shaw and Taleed El-Sabawi

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent increases in the incidence of televised violence against Black persons by law enforcement actors and others have contributed to the worsening mental health of these subordinated and marginalized communities. While the policy solutions needed to address this disparate impact are structural and multi-faceted, the introduction of 988, a national mental health crisis hotline, offers an opportunity to positively contribute to the overall goals of decreasing police interactions with Black and Brown communities.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Final Rule designating 988 as a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in September 2020. Congress later passed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 codifying 988 as the dialing code. Per the FCC Final Rule, states are required to implement 988 into their networks by July 2022.

States have wide latitude in how they implement 988, and though many will likely stop at the bare minimum of creating a suicide prevention hotline, 988 could be coupled with the creation of police alternative (or non-police) mobile responses that assist with de-escalation, stabilization, and connection to treatment. Non-police responses promise to decrease police interaction, excessive use of force, and criminalization of mental illness. Such non-police responses have gained in national popularity due in large part to organization and protests led by Black Lives Matters activists.

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St. Paul, Minnesota /US - June 4, 2020: Police throand protestors during the protests following the murder of George Floyd.

Research and Regulation of Less-Lethal Projectiles Critically Needed

By Rohini Haar and Brian Castner

In 2020, the use of less-lethal weapons in the United States, already overused, took a sharp upturn during the police response to the Black Lives Matter protests. In response, last month, the U.S. House of Representatives formed a commission of inquiry to investigate the health effects of one such weapon: tear gas. Such research is welcome and badly needed. However, tear gas is only part of a larger story. While well-intentioned, the House missed an opportunity to address a wider and more dangerous issue: the use of “less-lethal” projectiles against crowds.

In protecting basic human rights and civil liberties, it is critical to better understand and regulate projectiles — they are dangerous and poorly studied weapons.

Regardless of their specific characteristics, all less-lethal projectiles work by the same principle: they inflict blunt trauma, pain, and intimidation on individuals, while attempting to limit the chances of death or disability as compared to live ammunition. While the weapons certainly do cause shock and pain, avoiding death and disability has not been so straightforward.

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Healthcare concept of professional psychologist doctor consult in psychotherapy session or counsel diagnosis health.

The Case for Non-Police Response to Behavioral Health Crises

By Jennifer J. Carroll and Taleed El-Sabawi

People who use drugs continue to die at staggering rates, due not only to overdose from contaminated drug supply, but also due to our persistent reliance on the carceral system to respond to behavioral health crises.

This approach stems from the state-sanctioned violence of the War on Drugs. It takes various forms, including the use of police officers as first responders to behavioral health crises (including welfare checks), the excessive police use of force, and the use of potentially lethal restraint methods to subdue agitated persons. It also manifests in police officers’ use of jail cells as tools for forced “detox” believing that coerced withdrawal while in custody will reduce overdose risk or help someone “go clean” (it very clearly does not).

Evidence-based alternatives to police response for behavioral health crises exist. However, despite being both feasible and effective, these alternatives to police intervention remain the exception, rather than the rule.

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Police car.

Police Should Not Be Enforcing Emergency Public Health Orders

By Daniel Polonsky

On a weekend when police officers were handing masks to white residents in parks around New York City, NYPD Officer Francisco Garcia forced Donni Wright, a 33-year-old Black man, to the ground and knelt on his neck. Officer Garcia was one of 1,000 NYPD officers dispatched to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing. He had been investigating a report of individuals not wearing masks, although he himself was not wearing one. Police Chief Terence Monahan had previously assured reporters that the police would be educating the public and only breaking up large gatherings, not bothering individuals merely walking outside — “They don’t have a mask, we’ll give them a mask.” But Officer Garcia, who has settled six lawsuits for police misconduct for a combined $182,500, did more than educate that day. Multiple officers were in the middle of arresting two individuals after allegedly spotting a bag of marijuana when Mr. Wright spoke up in their defense. In response, Officer Garcia called him a racial epithet and accosted him, causing severe injuries to Mr. Wright’s back, ribs, and chest. What started as social distancing enforcement ended in racist, excessive use of force.

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