Singleton Introduces Legislation to Train Police on Mental Illnesses

Singleton Introduces Legislation to Train Police on Mental Illnesses, Revise Standards for Involuntary Commitment

Bill Responds to Concerns Raised in Task Force Report on Mental Health


(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Troy Singleton has introduced legislation to make instruction on proper interaction with individuals who have a mental illness part of the training curriculum for law enforcement officers.

The bill is a response to problem areas identified in the New Jersey SAFE Task Force’s 2013 report on gun violence, addiction and mental health.

“Many take it for granted that they can call the police when they need help, but for some people who struggle with mental illnesses and their loved ones, ensuring that law enforcement personnel are properly trained to handle these complex interactions is critically important,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Oftentimes a crisis is a cry for help. Making sure officers understand how to de-escalate tensions and recognize signs of mental illness must be a fundamental component of police training.”

The bill (A-4911) would require the Department of Law and Public Safety, in collaboration with the Department to Human Services, to adopt or endorse a training curriculum for officers that includes instruction on police interactions with people who have a mental illness, substance abuse disorder or both.

Under the legislation, the curriculum would include information on de-escalation, intervention techniques and the recognition of symptoms of behavioral health disorders. The curriculum also would include: suicide prevention, the effects of medications used to treat behavioral disorders, community resources and options for treatment, methods of determining appropriate treatment options, and standards for involuntary commitment to inpatient and outpatient treatment.

In response to another issue addressed in the report, the bill would amend current law to establish additional clinical criteria for involuntary commitment to outpatient treatment. The legislation would require mental health care personnel to consider the following factors when determining whether outpatient treatment is appropriate for an individual:

  • Whether the person has a history of a lack of compliance with treatment;
  • Whether he/she has demonstrated one or more acts of serious violent behavior to self, others or property;
  • Whether he/she has threatened or attempted harm within the past four years;
  • Whether his/her mental illness makes it unlikely that the individual will comply with treatment.

Current law states only that outpatient treatment is appropriate when such treatment “is deemed sufficient to render the person unlikely to be dangerous to self, others or property.”

“As is the case with many other disorders, proper treatment can enable a person with a mental illness to live a normal life. An untreated mental illness, however, can lead a person to engage in self-inflicted harm, hurt another person or destroy property,” said Singleton. “By clarifying the law on involuntary commitment, this legislation will allow more New Jersey residents to receive the appropriate kind of help.”

The bill also would authorize the court to enter a temporary order for involuntary outpatient commitment, subject to initial treatment in a short-term care facility, if it deems such commitment appropriate.

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