Dear Senators Cornyn and Whitehouse,
I am writing on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to advise you of our support for S. 4003, the “Law Enforcement De-escalation Training Act.”
Law enforcement officers face numerous challenges when responding to threats against public safety, and not all of these threats are necessarily criminal in nature. Police are on the front lines and are often called to deal with individuals experiencing mental illness, substance abuse issues, or similar psychological impairments who may become dangerous to themselves or to the public. Recent studies found that as many as ten percent of all law enforcement encounters involve individuals experiencing these issues. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has estimated that over 2 million individuals arrested each year are struggling with a serious mental illness.
Your legislation would address this issue by providing $70 million in annual grant funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) to State and local law enforcement agencies to train officers in de-escalation tactics and alternatives to the use of force. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), through consultation with State and local law enforcement agencies, would be required to develop a curriculum of relevant training topics, including de-escalation tactics, use of force alternatives, establishing and maintaining crisis intervention teams, as well as how to safely respond to mental and behavioral health crises using public benefits programs, housing assistance programs, and other relevant services. The funding from this bill will be used to cover the cost of training, attendance, overtime fees, and the procurement of certifications. Additionally, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would study and evaluate the impacts of the training. This would ensure that the training has a meaningful, tangible impact on law enforcement encounters with individuals in crisis.
The implementation of de-escalation techniques would have a tremendous positive impact on public safety and the relationship between the public and law enforcement officers. Numerous studies have shown that civilians base their perceptions of law enforcement on their last encounter. Providing officers with the skills and training to avoid needless escalation of calls for service enable officers to protect the public more effectively. This improved communication will create a better police force and safer communities.
On behalf of the more than 364,000 members of the Fraternal Order of Police, we thank you both for your leadership on this important issue. If I can provide any additional information about this bill, please do not hesitate to contact me or Executive Director Jim Pasco in our Washington, D.C. office.