22 Questions in 2022: How could new legislation help police officers who have to deal with mental health calls?
Published 7:00 pm Sunday, February 27, 2022
In late January, David Ralston, speaker of the House of Representatives in Georgia announced he had filed House Bill 1013, a comprehensive bill to reform Georgia’s mental health care delivery system.
Ralston noted that the crisis of mental health instability touches almost every family in the state, drains the county and state of economical productivity and intersects with the state’s public safety.
LaGrange Police Chief Lou Dekmar played a role in helping the bill get introduced. He was appointed to the Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission by Ralston and has worked on various initiatives to address police interaction with mentally unstable individuals, including the One Mind campaign, a police response program to mental illness.
Dekmar was present at the press conference Ralston held when the bill was introduced.
His hope now, should the bill get passed into law, is that it will be the start of major changes to assist area law enforcement with addressing mental health crises among residents.
“A particular concern we have right now is the number of repeated encounters because of the lack of inpatient care and a lack of outpatient community-based resources,” Dekmar said. “Another is the lack of enabling legislation that allows police officers to take somebody into custody when they have probable cause to believe that they are affected by mental illness, and they’re a threat to themselves or someone else.”
House Bill 1013 aims to expand Georgians’ access to mental health care by increasing the number of mental health professionals in the state, require insurance companies to cover mental health on the same level physical health is covered and give assistance to first responders when they are called into a mental health crisis.
Currently, police officers in Georgia are not allowed to take in mentally ill individuals unless they commit a crime, as noted by the Georgia Code Title 37.
LPD officers are trained in Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) yearly to refresh the protocol for mental health crisis situations. Dekmar said CIP training helps prevent use-of-force incidents during calls.
Dekmar said when his officers deal with a mentally ill individual, they alert family members of the person and inform them of procedures or commitment orders, or escort the individual to the emergency room if needed.
“We have to wait for someone to be hurt, someone to be victimized,” Dekmar said. “Regretfully, what has happened is a significant portion of our jail and prison populations have now become treatment centers by those affected by mental illness.”
House Bill 1013 has the potential to ultimately decriminalize mental illness and allow officers to issue assistance to a mentally ill individual almost immediately. Section 3 of the 74-page particularly notes law enforcement agencies would be allowed to bring in a mentally ill individual to receive treatment if they are evaluated to be at risk.
“A peace officer may take any person to a physician within the county or an adjoining county for emergency examination by the physician or directly to an emergency receiving facility,” it reads.
“The peace officer shall execute a written report detailing the circumstances under which the person was taken into custody, and this report shall be made a part of the patient’s clinical record. If the person is committing a penal offense, the peace officer need not formally tender charges against the person prior to taking the person to a physician or an emergency receiving facility.”
Another major issue Dekmar pointed out is Troup County’s access to mental health receiving facilities. The closest facility of this kind is in Newnan.
“When we take a person to the emergency room, oftentimes they are released in a very short period of time with inadequate treatment,” he said.
“I’m hoping we can get community resources. Once there’s a determination and they’re stabilized, when they come back, they can continue to get adequate follow-up.”