U.S. Senator Bob Casey introduces two bills to improve mental health call response

This Week in Pennsylvania

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM)- U.S. Senator Bob Casey is introducing two bills to improve the way law enforcement interacts with people with disabilities and mental illnesses. Both bills have bipartisan support.

Senator Casey says the current response system puts too much of a burden on law enforcement.

“These bills are designed to get people the services and support that they need and to reduce demands on law enforcement,” Casey said.

The H.E.L.P Act would divert more calls away from 9-1-1, and instead to 2-1-1, a non-emergency number for people dealing with a mental health crisis. The Safe Interactions Act would provide law enforcement training to respond to people in a mental health crisis.

“Too often, we hear tragic news. Throughout this year and so many other years where people with mental health and other disabilities are either seriously injured or even killed during interactions with law enforcement officials,” Casey said.

Last September, a Lancaster City Police officer shot and killed Ricardo Munoz, who was running toward the officer with a knife. Munoz’s family said they called to get him help while he was going through a mental health crisis. The Lancaster County District Attorney said the shooting was justified.

Kevin Ressler, President, and CEO of United Way of Lancaster County say police don’t always need to be in that kind of position because caseworkers are equipped to handle them.

“Sometimes it’s been said that the weapon of choice for a caseworker is a clipboard because they’re able to use that to disarm circumstances,” Ressler said. “What we’re trying to do is get individuals who are known to have certain challenges to be interacting with not strangers on an emergency call, but with familiar faces and voices in the context of which they already are having a relationship with.”

Senator Casey hopes to get both bills passed this year.

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