Gov. Wolf signs bill to require mental health training for police officers

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – One in five adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness, and that can cause problems when dealing with police.

But Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill to address that concern.

The new law requires all officers in the state to go through mental health training, but the bill doesn’t make clear just what that’s going to entail.

The language in the law isn’t very specific, and there’s not very much of it.

“There’s nothing in the new law that says that the training gets repeated,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU. “There’s nothing in it that says what type of training occurs.”

The state ACLU helped bring about the measure originally.

But the law — House Bill 221, which changed to Act 25 of 2015 with Wolf’s signature — simply notes cops will be required to get training to identify mental illness, intellectual disabilities and autism.

Now it’s up to the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission to come up with specifics.

“Presumably,” said Hoover, “they’ll be working with advocates for people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues to ensure that officers get the best training possible.”

He said the “gold standard” is what’s called Crisis Intervention Team training. It relies on partnerships with mental health groups, and typically requires about 40 hours of training.

But, again, it’s up to the commission.

The bill passed the statehouse with near-unanimous support; just one lawmaker in both houses voted against it.

“Harrisburg is a town where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the weather,” said Hoover, “but here’s something where they both agreed. People from both parties recognize you know this is really important training.”

Many police departments already do this kind of training. This law simply makes sure all of them are, and that there are standards.

The law also contains similar provisions for magisterial judges.

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