Apr 22, 2021
Senate Hearing on Police Reform, “Behavioral Health and Policing” Full Transcript April 22
The Senate Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism held a hearing on behavioral health and policing on April 22, 2021. Read the transcript of the full hearing here.
Transcribe Your Own Content
Try Rev and save time transcribing, captioning, and subtitling.
Cory Booker: (00:00)
And thank the witnesses that are here today, both in person, thank you, Kevin, and the virtual witnesses that we’ll have as well. I’m going to acknowledge in a moment, after I finished my opening remarks, should Senator Grassley show up and I see Senator Durbin here, we’ll offer and make time for both of them to give some remarks after Senator Cotton gives some. I was asked by one of our subcommittee members, Senator Klobuchar, who really wanted to be here today, but she is, unfortunately, at home attending the funeral services of Dante Wright who was shot and killed during a traffic stop. And she wanted us to express that she’s going to be submitting questions for the record.
Cory Booker: (00:53)
Right now across our country and in the Senate, we’re having a long overdue absolutely critical conversation about policing in America. I am very grateful over the last weeks to be in good faith conversations with colleagues of mine across the aisle about a larger bill to try to advance policing in America. But today, we’re here on a far more narrow topic. And the purpose of the hearing is to talk about changes we need to make when it comes to how we, as an overall society, are going to respond to people dealing with mental health crisis and those who have disabilities of behavioral health.
Cory Booker: (01:38)
By and large, we as a society have failed to provide these individuals with the support, services, compassion, and empathy they need to thrive in our communities and live full lives. We see our streets with people experiencing homelessness, our jails and prisons. And we see, unfortunately, short and tragic deaths of those who are struggling with mental health crises. I haven’t met a warden, when I go visit jails, or police leaders who haven’t spoke with compassion and empathy that they are not the ones that should be dealing with this. There should be a better way to help people live healthy lives.
Cory Booker: (02:21)
And so, today we focus in on what is unfortunately too often our society’s first real interaction with people with mental health and it often goes wrong. We’re here to talk about how our great police officers try to deal with this issue. It’s about how we have made police officers first responders for mental illness, intellectual developmental disabilities, substance abuse, and people experiencing homelessness. It is about how officers are deeply frustrated and, as is often the case, overwhelmed because they are expected to play the role of social worker, mental health expert, and medical expert when they do not have the training or the skills often to do so. And it’s about how, for this reason, these encounters can quickly escalate to violence or turn deadly.
Cory Booker: (03:20)
One study of shooting data for 2015 found that people with untreated mental illness were 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter. The names, many of which we know, of the people who’ve died because of their encounters, Daniel Prude, Deborah Danner, Marcus-David Peters, and so many more. Often, when these deaths occur, I reach out to the police officers I trust in the police department that I oversaw as a mayor. These are great, tough cops, courageous, fearless in fact. And I ask them, “Should those people with mental illnesses have died in those interactions.” And they all conclude with me very quickly that there should be a better way. We, as a society together, should be able to avoid these unnecessary deaths.
Cory Booker: (04:16)
Public health issues can not be fixed with a law enforcement response. We must find a different way. What is needed for people who live with mental illness or addiction is help, services, treatment, access to medication, medical treatment, housing, peer support, and more. We know from our experiences of sound law enforcement officers, people on both sides of the aisle, that this should change in our society. We are better than this.
Cory Booker: (04:52)
I mentioned my time as mayor of Newark. And I have to say I was elected with a mandate to lower violent crime. My city was experiencing a surge in crime when I became mayor in 2006. So, I spent hours, and hours, and hours riding along with police officers often until four o’clock in the night. I wanted to know the challenges they faced. I wanted to learn their profession as best I could. I rode with them and I got to know them. And again, I was humbled by their heroism, and their service, and their sacrifice. I got to know them and their families. I saw their professionalism. I saw how they were willing to take extraordinary risks, often putting themselves squarely into life-threatening situations to carry out their duties. Let me tell you right now, the job of being a police officer in America is extraordinarily difficult.
Cory Booker: (05:46)
But what made their work harder was having to answer calls for service that took them to the person in a mental distress and screaming in their home, to the teenager whose mother called 911 because he was erratic and she had no one else to call, to the person experiencing homeless, struggling with addiction, lying in the street. We were so frustrated, me and my police leadership, that the calls for service kept people chasing what we called the queue, chasing call after call, as opposed to doing the strategic work we needed to do to solve violent crimes. Unequipped and under resourced, I saw my officers spend their nights chasing those calls when they could have been more strategically using our manpower as police, and those people who they responded to could have gotten better help that would have prevented them from having encounters with the police in the future.
Cory Booker: (06:47)
I want to note that I received several letters from law enforcement leaders that echoed my own experience across the country in advance of this hearing, asking, almost pleading for Congress to fix the problem. I’m going to submit those letters for the record, but I want to read just some of the words. Sheriff Jerry Clayton of Washtenaw County, Michigan wrote, “I urge the subcommittee to support and fund additional community-based services for people with mental health and substance use challenges. Too often, people in need of treatment end up in our jails. This is not where they belong. Wherever possible, we should make efforts to find ways to provide community-based care without ever connecting with law enforcement.”
Cory Booker: (07:37)
Chief Sean Barnes of Madison, Wisconsin wrote, “In this era of police reform, we must all challenge our government to provide a better level of service to the community. We can no longer simply rely on police responses to mental wellness and must view this issue from a community health perspective. We have seen far too many times this negative result of police only responses to mental health calls. No person deserves to be imprisoned or harmed by police simply because they have mental wellness challenges.”
Cory Booker: (08:12)
Chief RaShall Brackney of Charlottesville, Virginia wrote, “By simply calling 911, a caller unleashes the full power of a system in which few officers are equipped to navigate. The Senate judiciary committee has the opportunity to inform the development of a national framework for responding to individuals in crisis. Included in that framework must be a pathway toward decreasing the presence of law enforcement in the mental health response portfolio and for the allocation of funding and resources, which build capacity to support community led continuum of care options, which incorporate lived experiences and racial equity into the system.”
Cory Booker: (08:56)
In the meeting with local police chiefs two weeks ago, my colleague, my friend, and my partner on a lot of work here in the Senate, Senator Cornyn, expressed support for specialized training and more social workers and mental health experts so that police can do their jobs and, “Keep the bad guys at bay and protect the community.” I believe we can find common ground here. I very purposely made this first hearing about something that I thought there was a wide common ground to do. There’s so many issues that we as Democrats and Republicans do a good job of delineating our differences. This is something that should rise, I think, more grace from all of us. How can we come together, right and left, to try to find a way, not to rehash our differences, but champion our shared interests and find common sense solutions.
Cory Booker: (09:58)
It’s time that we go that extra step to end what, for many families, with someone that has a mental illness in them, has been a constant nightmare, fears of what will happen to their family member. I am grateful to all the witnesses that are here. I hope today we can narrow in, not on our differences, but to see if we can find some common ground. That’s when we as a country move forward is when we find ways to stand together and work together to the benefit of others. It is the calling of our country to lead with that kind of spirit. I look forward to hearing from everyone. I look forward to a constructive conversation. And, with that, I am honored to pass it on to my ranking member and someone who I have a lot of respect for, Tom Cotton.
Tom Cotton: (10:55)
Thank you, Chairman Booker. Policing is on the minds of many Americans today. It’s on their minds because of the relentless coverage of some high profile situations. But unfortunately, that coverage often includes falsehoods, which can be incendiary and, if repeated often enough, can do significant damage or something that no mere retraction can correct. There’s another reason that many Americans have policing on their minds today.
Tom Cotton: (11:23)
Last year, our nation experienced the single largest increase in murders ever recorded, a shocking 25% surge nationwide. In big cities, it was even worse. Murders rose in Chicago by 65%, in New York city by 58%, and in Washington D.C. by 40%. major cities additionally suffered the largest rise and aggravated assault in three decades. American families and communities also watched in horror as drug overdose deaths rose to the highest level ever in their tragic history of addiction. 88, 000 Americans died in just the last 12 months alone from drug overdoses. And our country also experienced hundreds of violent riots last year that inflicted billions of dollars in damages and wounded more than 2,000 law enforcement officers.
Tom Cotton: (12:20)
Policing is a dangerous and difficult profession. It often involves individuals, all of whom are imperfect, making split second decisions with life and death consequences. The vast majority of law enforcement interactions involve no use of force, in fact, are cooperative in cordial between law enforcement and citizens. And the vast majority of law enforcement officers are good, brave, selfless individuals putting their lives on the line every day to protect their communities. They face tight budgets, long hours, and sometimes public ridicule all because they dedicate their lives to protecting others.
Tom Cotton: (12:57)
Nonetheless, we of course have understandable concerns about how police interact with the public, including with poor communities, minority communities, and individuals with mental health challenges. Given the potential consequences if an interaction goes poorly, it is no surprise that Republicans and Democrats alike are interested in finding ways to improve policing and to improve public safety.
Tom Cotton: (13:24)
But despite bipartisan interest in this issue, we have seen, on occasion, unfortunate partisan divides that have gotten sharper in recent years. There is perhaps no more visible example of this partisan divide than calls to defund the police. Activists and politicians can mean different things when they use that term. Some, including some lawmakers in Congress, have literally called for the abolition of all law enforcement, although many of these same lawmakers and advocates spend enormous sums of money on their own phalanx of private security bodyguards. Abolishing law enforcement is, of course, a foolish idea that no serious this person would ever want to see enacted. Others say we shouldn’t abolish law enforcement altogether, but that we should simply cut their budgets further and rely more on unarmed social workers or mental health workers to intervene in emergency situations.
Tom Cotton: (14:17)
Now, of course, we need to involve mental health professionals any time there’s a crisis situation where a person can receive treatment from a mental health professional, rather than be a subject of our criminal justice system. And we don’t need to ask police officers to also function as psychiatrists, doctors, and educators, or to solve every social problem in our society. They are on our streets to enforce our laws and keep our community safe. And I suspect that most police departments will be glad to have more and better partnerships with mental health providers, as Chairman Booker outlined in some of the letters he introduced. I expect we’ll hear more about this in the hearing.
Tom Cotton: (15:04)
And I welcome the opportunity to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan fashion to improve the availability of things like deescalation training and training on how to recognize and respond to people facing mental health challenges and to expand partnerships between law enforcement on the one hand and mental and behavioral health providers on the other hand. But the suggestion that mental health professionals can replace the police rather than supplement and support the police is misguided and dangerous. The simple truth is that, when law enforcement stands down, when it responds less to what some people would call small or quality of life crimes, or when the police are defunded, all we get is more crime and more violence.
Tom Cotton: (15:50)
So, let’s be clear. Law enforcement is not the enemy. We shouldn’t try to reduce law enforcement either. Not only can the police prevent additional victims, they can also be the opportunity to connect offenders who suffer from mental illness and addiction with the professionals that can give them the care they need. Almost every day that a police officer puts on their uniform, they help someone on the worst day of that person’s life. Our police see the most heart wrenching tragedies, the most gruesome gore, the most pernicious evils in our society. They are constantly faced with the worst, and are always asked to be at their best. As violent crime and lawlessness continues to increase, we need more police, more resources, and better training, and yes, more and better partnerships between our police and our behavioral and mental health professionals. So, I thank the witnesses for appearing today, and I look forward to hearing their perspectives on this important issue.
Cory Booker: (16:55)
Senator Cotton, I’m grateful for those remarks. And I would like to now invite and ask Senator Durbin to give some remarks as well. And I’m hoping, if Senator Grassley is here, he will do the same.
Dick Durbin: (17:07)
Thank you, Senator Booker. I’m honored to be here for your first hearing as chair of the subcommittee on criminal justice and counter terrorism. In this room today, we are making history. As you take the gavel, you are the first African American chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This is not only an historic moment, it’s long overdue. I couldn’t think of a better person to chair this subcommittee. Our work together on the First Step Act showed you as a real leader when it came to criminal justice reform. And I know you’re showing the same leadership when it comes to police reform.
Dick Durbin: (17:43)
The topic today is one that is near and dear to me. As Senator Cotton noted, there is an abundance, an overwhelming evidence of gun violence in the city of Chicago and many cities across the nation. As a United States Senator, many groups come to me and say, “Well, what are you going to do about it? You’re such a hot shot. You’re a leader. You’re on the Judiciary Committee.” And many times I throw up my hands and think, if it depends on passing a law, that is so hard to do politically, to get anything done in so many different areas.
Dick Durbin: (18:16)
But I made a trip a few years ago that has really guided me since to the Cook County Juvenile Facility. This facility houses adolescents under the age of 18 who have been accused of gun crimes, many of them murder. And they stay in this facility in downtown Chicago until their trial. Sometimes that’s years.
Dick Durbin: (18:39)
And so, we have created a high school in this facility, classrooms, gyms, cafeterias for these adolescents waiting for trial as they’re accused of gun crimes. And I sat down with the teachers and counselors at these facilities and said, “Who are these kids? How did they get into this situation? Gang members, gun violence, what is this all about?” And, of course, they said there are many avenues and many paths to that outcome. But they said to me, “There’s one overwhelming common theme. Over 90% of these kids have been the victims of trauma.” Of course, we think of trauma in a physical sense, but it also is in the mental sense. If you go back to the ACEs indicator, adverse childhood experiences, a list created many years ago and realize what can happen to a little kid as they’re growing up that has a direct impact on who they will be, what they will do, you find out there’s a long, long list.
Dick Durbin: (19:39)
The second visit I made, and I’ll make this very brief, was to a public school that was in Chicago that was going through a program where they were introducing children in the third grade to meditation. And I sat in the classroom as the teacher called for a few minutes, five minutes of just silence, and reflection, and meditation of the class. And, as I watched and then went out in the hallway later, I said, “There was one little boy in there that just couldn’t settle down, couldn’t quiet down. What’s going on? Do you know?” “Well, something terrible has happened at his home.” And I said to the teacher, “So, what are you going to do about it?” She says, “I teach math in third grade. I’m not a psychologist.”
Dick Durbin: (20:27)
So, the issue that I’m raising here this morning at the beginning of this hearing and all the issues you’ve raised are valid issues. But let us not forget the need for mental health counseling for children, intervention in the lives of children. I don’t think these kids are lost forever. They need help. They need a mentor. They need somebody who believes in them, who cares, who can turn them to the right path instead of seeing them end up on the wrong path. I yield.
Cory Booker: (20:56)
Gentlemen who are here, Senator Grassley is one of the busier men in the United States Senate, moves with the indefatigable determination of the Energizer bunny. So, he’s not here right now, invoked Senator Cornyn’s name. I’d love to extend the courtesy, Senator Cornyn if you’d like to give any introductory remarks.
John Cornyn: (21:16)
Well, thank you for the courtesy and the opportunity. I’m glad to be here today, and I appreciate you and Senator Cotton convening this hearing. I think we’ve all learned a lot in recent years about law enforcement and the role of mental health in that process.
John Cornyn: (21:35)
I guess one of the people that made the biggest impression on me a few years back was a journalist named Pete Earley who chronicled his own family’s struggle with a son, an adult son who was mentally ill. But, in the process, would commit petty crimes and find himself in a jail cell without any real benefit to him or society, because that’s the only place they knew to put him.
John Cornyn: (22:10)
But I have been encouraged by the work that we’ve been able to do here in this Congress, passing things like my Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, offering grants for those police departments that needed help with things like active shooter response, things like deescalation training and the like. And I’ve been very much encouraged by the crisis intervention teams that are sprouting up in most major cities around the country, including all the major cities in my state, and even the advent of things like mental health courts. So that, unlike traditional courts that adjudicate guilt or innocence, they literally monitor people once they are released in public and make sure that they have the support they need and hopefully to deal with their mental health condition and so they don’t repeat those offenses. And they get the help they need hopefully to get better.
John Cornyn: (23:14)
But I’ll never forget about five years ago now, I think it was, I was in Dallas at a memorial service where five police officers were killed. And police chief David Brown at the time, who has since gone to Chicago, he said to me and everyone else there at the time, he said, “We ask the police to do too much.” And I think we’re making progress to try provide additional resources and a more effective response. But frankly, I don’t think it’s an either or proposition. I don’t think the question is, do you support the police or do you support mental health providers? We need to do both, in my view.
John Cornyn: (24:01)
And so, I’m glad that I’m glad this committee in this Congress has been productive in passing things like the Criminal Justice Reform act that we all worked together on. But Senator Whitehouse and I are working on post release access to services to make sure that people who do go through the programs to deal with their mental health challenges or with their addictions or lack of job skills that, once they’re released from prison, that they have support they need in order to remain a successful and productive member of society, and not by going back to the same old neighborhood with the same old bad influences just to get back into the same old bad habits. So, thanks for giving me a chance to say a few words, Mr. Chairman. And thanks for holding this hearing.
Cory Booker: (24:50)
Thank you, Mr. Cornyn. As I learned as a young boy in a small black church in New Jersey, the choir has now sang with surprising harmony amongst us all. Now, it’s time to get onto the sermon, and that will come from our witnesses. And I’m very excited to introduce half of our witnesses. And I will ask my ranking member to introduce the other witnesses. And, if I can find my notes here, forgive me. If I can get my introductions here, thank you very much.
Cory Booker: (25:24)
So, the first witness is Major Martin Bartness. He’s the commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s education and training section, where he’s responsible for the development and delivery of new recruit training and continuing education for approximately 3000 personnel. Major Bartness also leads the Baltimore Police Department’s crisis response program. And he has served as the chief of staff to the police commissioner and commander of special investigation section. He holds a bachelor’s degree of arts from Creighton University, master’s of arts degree from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and a master’s of criminal justice degree from Boston University.
Cory Booker: (26:04)
And then we have Keris Myrick, is a director of the Jet Foundation and co-director of The Mental Health Strategic Impact Initiative. And she serves on the board of the National Association of Peer Specialists. Ms. Myrick has previously held the position of director of the office of consumer affairs for the Center for Mental Health Services of the United States Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse, and Mental Health Services Administration, and the board president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Ms. Myrick has a master’s of science degree in organizational psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology of Alliant International University. Her master’s of business administration degree is from Case Western University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Cory Booker: (26:58)
Ebony Martin is the program coordinator and a crisis intervention worker for Cahoots. The Cahoots Program provides mobile crisis response in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, and has been connecting people experiencing crisis with uniquely training personnel as an alternative to law enforcement for more than 30 years. In her position, she strives to promote and enhance the crucial role mobile crisis response plays in keeping communities safe.
Cory Booker: (27:33)
Kevin Martone is… Kevin, hi, is the executive director of the Technical Assistance Collaborative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping our nation’s mental health, addiction, homelessness, and affordable housing systems, implement policies and practices that empower people to live healthy independent lives in the communities they choose. Previously, Mr. Martone served as the mental health commissioner for the great state of New Jersey, president of the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, and CEO of a Supportive Housing Agency. Yes. Yes. Ranking member, please introduce your witnesses.
Tom Cotton: (28:22)
Thank you. At first, I’d like to introduce Terri O’Connor. Ms. O’Connor lives in Philadelphia, where she was born and raised. She’s the mother of two children and the grandmother of two. Ms. Connor has firsthand experience with the challenges faced by our police. Not only is her son a police officer, but her late husband was also a police officer. In the early years of her marriage, Ms. O’Connor also spent a decade working as a 911 operator herself. Most recently, and tragically, Ms. O’Connor is also a widow, after her husband, Philadelphia police corporal James O’Connor, was killed last year as he was serving a high risk murder warrant on a gang member. His murderer should have been in jail at the time, but for the soft on crime policies of a local district attorney who prioritized so-called decarceration and reducing the footprint of the criminal justice system above public safety. Ms. O’Connor, I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your testimony today.
Tom Cotton: (29:24)
Next I’d like to introduce Rafael Mangual. Mr. Mangual is a senior fellow and deputy director of legal policy at the Manhattan Institute, as well as a contributing editor to City Journal. He has authored or co-authored a number of reports and articles on issues ranging from urban crime and jail violence to broader matters of criminal and civil justice reform. His work has been featured in a wide array of publications, and he has also appeared on a number of television and radio programs to discuss these issues. He has previously worked in corporate communications for the International Trademark Association. He holds a BA in corporate communication from City University of New York’s Baruch College, and a law degree from DePaul University in Chicago. Last year, he was appointed to serve a four year term as a member of the New York State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil rights. Thank you, Mr. Mangual for appearing before us today.
Tom Cotton: (30:15)
Finally, I’d like to introduce Sheriff Margaret Mims of Fresno County, California. Sheriff Mims has been a peace officer for more than three decades and was elected sheriff in 2006. Not only was Sheriff Mims the first female deputy sheriff Sergeant to supervise field patrols in Fresno county, she was also the first female deputy sheriff there to attain the ranks of lieutenant, captain, or assistant sheriff, or to be elected to the office of sheriff. She is a member of the California Peace Officers Association and the California State Sheriff’s Association, and is also deeply involved in her community in other ways, including through her service on the board of directors of the Marjorie Mason Center, a local women’s shelter, as well as on the board of trustees for the Fresno County Boys and Girls Club. Sheriff Mims is a graduate of Fresno Pacific University, and holds a master’s degree in public administration from National University. Thank you, Sheriff Mims, for testifying today.
Tom Cotton: (31:12)
And Chairman Booker, I’d also like to ask consent to enter into the record a number of other documents, including four peer reviewed articles regarding policing and behavioral health, three commentary articles published in mainstream media publications, two documents published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, and a written statement from the council of state governments.
Cory Booker: (31:36)
Without objection. I’d like to now bring the witnesses on one by one. I think I need to swear folks in. And why don’t we stand up, Kevin. And the witnesses at home, please stand in your bedroom, living room, wherever you are. Do you affirm that the testimony… please raise your right hand. Do you affirm that the testimony you are about to give before this committee will be true-
Cory Booker: (32:03)
The testimony you are about to give before this committee will be truthful, wholly truthful, and nothing but the truth, so help you God.
Speaker 1: (32:08)
Cory Booker: (32:09)
Thank you very much. And with that, we’re going to bring on the first witness. And the first witness will be Major Martin Bartness, the Commander and Education Training Specialist at the Baltimore Police Department.
Major Martin Bartness: (32:29)
Good morning, committee Chairman Booker, Ranking Member Cotton, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism.
Major Martin Bartness: (32:39)
My name is Major Martin Bartness and I am a 24 year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, where I currently serve as the Commander of Education and Training and lead the Crisis Response Program. I’m also a Bloomberg fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Major Martin Bartness: (32:54)
While it is my privilege to appear before you today, I wish my presence were not necessary. We have come together in large measure because for at least the past decade, law enforcement actions have been associated with the annual death of about 1100 people nationwide. It is estimated that 25% to 50% of these deaths involve persons who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness. In the past three weeks alone, more than a dozen people who were mentally ill or in the throws of a breakdown were killed by police.
Major Martin Bartness: (33:26)
These tragedies points to the urgent need for law enforcement to partner with behavioral health professionals, community stakeholders, and individuals with lived experience to develop and implement solutions to effectively respond to persons in crisis and meet the complex behavioral health needs of those we serve.
Major Martin Bartness: (33:44)
We are in this situation because of public policy decisions made decades ago when psychiatric institutions were closed and those living with mental illness were returned to their communities without adequate treatment and support. While these institutions were not the answer, states and municipalities failed to provide the supports and treatment needed for people with mental illness to live free from discrimination in their communities.
Major Martin Bartness: (34:10)
To this day, in Baltimore and many other places throughout the United States, the behavioral health system’s goal of crisis prevention has not been realized. I will share a story to highlight this point.
Major Martin Bartness: (34:22)
In June of last year, a 19 year old man, completely nude and in psychiatric crisis, repeatedly fired a handgun at motorists as he walked the streets of his Baltimore neighborhood. Police responded, safely took the man into custody, recovered the firearm he had been discharging, and drove him to an emergency room for psychiatric treatment. This would have been a great outcome except for within six days of his release from the hospital, he had another psychotic episode. This time, when officers answered the 911 call to his home and calmly attempted to deescalate him, the man pulled a handgun from his pants pocket and pointed it at the officers. In fear for their lives, the officers shot him. He is now paralyzed.
Major Martin Bartness: (35:08)
Far too often police find themselves in positions where the behavioral health system has failed to meet consumers’ needs. This is why an estimated 10% of total police calls involve mental health situations. Inadequate funding and a system that diffuses responsibility among numerous uncoordinated entities are at the core of the problem.
Major Martin Bartness: (35:29)
As a result, people experience crises more frequently, and police are thrust into the role of the last resort safety net for people in crisis. Even when police peacefully handle behavioral health calls and link consumers to service providers, these calls can be time-consuming, which is often at odds with the demands of the 911 system and the expectations communities have for timely police response to crime and disorder.
Major Martin Bartness: (35:55)
I know we can do better. My testimony today is informed by 10 years of partnering with behavioral health professionals. I have witnessed firsthand how service delivery is improved dramatically when police partner with highly trained clinicians to conduct forensic interviews of sexually abused children, when police partner with victim advocates to coordinate counseling services to survivors of intimate partner violence, when police partner with outreach workers whose credibility within our nation’s most marginalized communities allows them to mediate disputes to disrupt cycles of retaliatory violence, and when police co-respond with licensed clinical social workers to deescalate a person in crisis.
Major Martin Bartness: (36:36)
Through these kinds of successful partnerships between the criminal justice and behavioral health systems, we have demonstrated how it is possible to improve public health outcomes for even the most challenged populations.
Major Martin Bartness: (36:49)
Moving forward, I hope you will build upon the promising practices of behavioral health programs like CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, STAR in Denver, Colorado, and GBRICS in Baltimore, Maryland. I hope you will fund research so that jurisdictions can make evidence-based decisions for allocating scarce resources. I hope you will incentivize law enforcement, behavioral health providers, and academic institutions to collaborate on policy development, training, data analysis, and outcome evaluation. And I hope you will heed the calls of behavioral health practitioners and clinicians to fund crisis response services, long-term treatment and community- based providers at the levels needed to meet the extraordinary demands.
Major Martin Bartness: (37:35)
I thank you for the opportunity today to discuss how this committee to make our community safer and more responsive to the millions of people who desperately need a robust behavioral health and crisis response system. Your support of law enforcement, behavioral health professionals, and the citizens we serve is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Cory Booker: (37:57)
Thank you so much, Commander. We really appreciate your testimony. I’m really pleased to bring on this next witness as when I was Mayor of the city of Newark, the Manhattan Institute was a partner of ours in helping us to establish the first ever in the state of New Jersey Municipal Office of Prisoner Reentry. And so I’m grateful now that one of the Manhattan Institute’s senior fellows is here. Mr. Rafael Mangual. I hope I pronounced your name correctly, sir, but would you please give us your testimony?
Rafael Mangual : (38:24)
You did, and thank you, Chairman Booker and Ranking Member Cotton, as well as members of the subcommittee for the invitation to deliver testimony here today. It is truly an honor and a privilege to address this body on an issue that is among the most important public policy debates of our time, which is police reform. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most divisive.
Rafael Mangual : (38:45)
A lot of the conversation about how to reform policing in the United States seems to be driven by key misconception, which is that police violence is a likely outcome of investigative or enforcement interaction.
Rafael Mangual : (38:57)
And so what I’d like to do is just start by addressing this misconception, talk a little bit about the potential risks and limits of an approach to reform that primarily seeks to reduce the footprint of police for its own sake.
Rafael Mangual : (39:09)
Right now, 83% of Americans, this is according to a recent Pew Research survey, guess that the typical police officer has fired his gun at least one time on the job while on duty. In reality, only about one in four actually ever do at any point during their long careers. Police very rarely use force. And when they do, it very rarely results in serious injury.
Rafael Mangual : (39:32)
In 2018, police officers in the United States discharged their firearms an estimated 3043 times. That year, they made more than 10.3 million criminal arrests. And if you attributed each of the 3043 estimated discharges to a unique officer, it would mean that at most 0.4 officers purposefully discharged their firearm in 2018. And if we assume that every shooting happened during the course of a separate arrest, it would mean that at most, police applied deadly force with a firearm in just 0.003% of arrests.
Rafael Mangual : (40:04)
[inaudible 00:40:04] deadly force, in 2018, a team of researchers and doctors published a thorough study of police use of force in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. That study analyzed over a million calls for service to three mid-sized police departments in Arizona, Louisiana, and North Carolina over a two year period. Those calls resulted in more than 114,000 arrests. Police force was used in just one in every 128 of them, meaning that more than 99% of all arrests, and much more than 99% of all encounters were affected without any use of force.
Rafael Mangual : (40:38)
Now, that study went on to find that on the people whom police used force against, they sustained no or mild injury more than 98% of the time. Only 1.8% of subjects sustained moderate or severe injuries, and only one suspect was fatally wounded by police gunfire during the entire study period, nor are uses of force likely when you drill down into particularly dangerous police encounters, including those involving people in crisis. Take my home city of New York for example.
Rafael Mangual : (41:07)
In 2020, the NYPD responded to 161,278 911 calls for persons in crisis, yet the department recorded just 42 firearm discharges that year, including off-duty shootings, the vast majority of which did not begin with crisis calls. On average, the NYPD response to 175,000 calls involving people in crisis annually, and its highly trained emergency service unit officers try to respond often, responding to about 125,000 of those per year, usually in conjunction with beat cops. In the three-year period between 2018 and 2020, ESU officers recorded just one shooting.
Rafael Mangual : (41:45)
Now, none of this means that there isn’t room for improvement or that police are perfect, there is and they are not, but exploring opportunities for reform is a worthwhile endeavor that has to be undertaken soberly because pulling the wrong policy lever can have disastrous effects, particularly on crime. And that’s the risk that we should be especially cognizant of now given the very sharp uptick in shootings and homicides across the country.
Rafael Mangual : (42:06)
Last year, for the first time since 1995, criminologists estimate that the US will have seen more than 20,000 criminal homicides, an increase of about 4,000 additional homicides compared to 2019. Now, that’s still a ways off from the nearly 25,000 homicides the country experienced in 1991, but it’s important to note that some cities have actually seen their homicide numbers approach and even surpass their 1990s peaks. Now, I suspect that some of the sincerely held misconceptions about police use of force have shaped some of the overarching goals of the reform movement, which at the moment seem to be to minimize the footprint of police in the criminal justice system more broadly in any way possible. We’ve heard calls to defund the police, which in some cities have been heated. We have also heard calls to divert more responsibility, particularly in things like traffic enforcement and responding to mental health calls away from police to unarmed civilians.
Rafael Mangual : (42:56)
On the mental health front, there is some evidence that suggests that we should continue to invest in efforts to augment the police by deploying civilian crisis intervention teams to calls involving people in crisis. In a report released just yesterday, my Manhattan Institute colleague, Charles Leman, reviews some of that evidence. Among the approaches evaluated in his report is a popular offsited and promising effort launched in Eugene, Oregon called CAHOOTS. And while effective, CAHOOTS is also a case study in the limits of programs loosely referred to as [inaudible 00:43:23] to policing.
Rafael Mangual : (43:25)
As Lehman notes in his report, CAHOOTS responders are highly specialized, and in 2019, they covered just 17% of Eugene 911 calls, with 75% of those calls being a welfare check or providing transportation, usually to someone homeless or a need. And even in those relatively limited circumstances, CAHOOTS responders still called for backup in roughly one in every 67 calls for service in 2019.
Rafael Mangual : (43:48)
And so while it doubtless provides a useful service now, groups like CAHOOTS are not necessarily a model for how to replace the police, but as a compliment to policing, it is certainly a useful model for other cities to adopt.
Rafael Mangual : (44:01)
So when you consider the sheer volume of mental health calls received by the police, not to mention the fact that they’re often received in the late at night or early morning hours, it becomes very clear that we simply don’t have the capacity to shift this particular responsibility in total.
Rafael Mangual : (44:13)
Another complicating factors that it’s often unclear as to whether a call can be accurately categorized as one that can be safely diverted to civilian responders in mental health crises as opposed to police-based encounters. So in other words, there’s a study for example, out of the city of Philadelphia, which found recently that some medical or public health activity initially masquerades as crime or other policing work, and some events that are eventually determined to be police or crime activity can initially appear to be public health related. And so the study went on to find that about 20% of activity in this area actually does not appear predictable from the initial call type as handled by police dispatchers, which is important because we need to know that in advance if we are going to successfully divert some of these calls.
Rafael Mangual : (44:58)
And so I also want to second the comments offered by Major Bartness and say that a real solution to the problems that sometimes arise in police encounters with those suffering from serious mental illness must be built around an effort to provide more and better supervision for those in need so that they can get the care and services that they desperately require in a safe and compassionate setting, rather than turning them out onto the street where they are likely to get hurt and/or hurt others.
Rafael Mangual : (45:21)
Now, again, none of this is to say that improving outcomes in policing isn’t something that we should not pursue with vigor. It is. But while reform is a worthy pursuit, it cannot be allowed to cause us to lose sight of the government’s first duty, which is to provide for the public’s safety. Thank you.
Cory Booker: (45:40)
Mr. Mangual, that was really incredible testimony, so good that I’m considering sending you a tie as a gift. I’d like to now go to Miss Keris Myrick. Would you please give us your testimony?
Keris Myrick: (45:58)
Good morning, Chairman Booker, Ranking Member Cotton, and members of the subcommittee. I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you today about creating behavioral health crisis systems that are safe and [inaudible 00:46:09] for all.
Keris Myrick: (46:10)
You’ve heard my bio, but equally important is who I am as a person. I’m a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, army brat, African-American, and I’m a person who’s been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. I recall when first diagnosed, I believe that no one would want to be my friend, that I was not worthy of help, and worse, that I was not worthy of love. Initially, I didn’t even believe that my struggles were due to having a mental illness. This is how I have felt often as a person of color in this country. I rejected any form of help, and due to the embarrassment and the stigma on mental illness, I didn’t even let the people who loved and supported me the most, my parents, into the world that I was experiencing.
Keris Myrick: (46:51)
My first interaction with the mental health system during a crisis when I was in my thirties in Los Angeles went badly, very badly. When I was in emotional distress, my expectations was that an EMT or ambulance would come to help me. I had been told repeatedly that a mental illness is like any other physical illness and should be treated as such.
Keris Myrick: (47:10)
During a time of confusion, paranoia and extreme emotional distress, the police arrived at my small apartment building where I was the only African-American resident. The officer banged on the door and loudly announced that he was from the police department and sent to do a welfare check.
Keris Myrick: (47:26)
As a Black person, so many things ran through my mind. Will the neighbors think that I fit some sort of stereotype about Black people being criminals? Was I safe to open the door given the many horrific outcomes of African-Americans and police interactions?
Keris Myrick: (47:40)
My paranoia was not about my illness. It was about the realities of what it’s like to be Black in America. I let let the police in, fearing if I didn’t, they would break down my door.
Keris Myrick: (47:51)
Being deemed a danger to myself, I was handcuffed and taken to the police station, where I was then handcuffed to a chair while they spoke to an African-American boy about stealing his grandfather’s gun that was on the table in a secure gun box. I was trying to understand how it was possible for me to be what everyone said, “sick” and needing psychiatric hospitalization, yet to be sitting handcuffed to a chair at a police station seeing for the first time in my life a real gun.
Keris Myrick: (48:19)
This was my first experience being in such distress and needing mental health support. What I didn’t need was the police response and being treated like a criminal. I needed health care and support. I found what care was all about, asking for help and getting instead handcuffs and being harmed physically and emotionally.
Keris Myrick: (48:37)
From this, I was unwilling to seek the care I needed, especially when I needed it most. All I can think is I’m very fortunate not to have had outcomes, the same outcomes as Miss Mitrice Richardson, a 24 year old African-American woman known to have bipolar disorder, was picked up by the police in the Malibu area of Los Angeles because it was reported she was acting irrationally. Like me, she was taken to a police station, but sadly for Miss Richardson, she was released from the station in the middle of the night with no car, phone, wallet or money. Her decomposed body was found 11 months later in the area not far from the station.
Keris Myrick: (49:15)
When someone has a heart attack, stroke, dementia, or even ready to give birth, is this how they’re treated? Police aren’t the default first responders. It’s ambulance or EMTs who are the default. So why do we have police responding to mental health emergency situations when others are trained to do so?
Keris Myrick: (49:33)
Peer support specialists should be part of the mobile crisis response as one of the ways to remove police from the behavioral health crisis response equation. Peer support specialists are trained in evidence-based practices, such as wellness recovery action plan, personal medicine coaching, and psychiatric advanced directives, and they share their personal story of recovery to support another. Peer support is proven to help people participate and adhere to treatment, shown reductions in hospitalization, homelessness, and increase in employment and social connection. And for parents and family members, it helps them to feel more confident in their ability to help their loved one.
Keris Myrick: (50:10)
Peer support is cost-effective and particularly valuable in rural and other areas that have been strapped for resources. We need more fully funded peer respites so people in behavioral health crisis have a safe and supportive place to recover.
Keris Myrick: (50:23)
These are unprecedented times, a world reeling from the pandemic, racial unrest, economic challenges and trauma, especially for those who have been so disproportionately impacted. If we want people to engage in their recovery, build resilience and flourish, we need to create crisis response and systems that look like other health crisis response without police as default first responders.
Keris Myrick: (50:44)
Recent reports, such as the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry, roadmaps the ideal crisis system, and the Front End Project’s report, From Harm to Help: Centering Race Equity and Lived Experience in Crisis Response, provide blueprints that could help us get there. Developing the new 988 phone number for everyone to call specifically for these kinds of crisis situations in lieu of 911 is a start and has created momentum for more comprehensive reforms, including comprehensive police and criminal justice reforms, yet without the explicit inclusion of peer support throughout centered on race equity and lived experience, we may not yield the systems that are most effective and the ones that people want, that even as the police have said that they want.
Keris Myrick: (51:26)
This is what we need and today I ask that we support legislation and robust funding to ensure equity is really equity in behavioral health crisis response. I ask that if we want to move from handcuffs to help, we must work together to ensure the safety of all, including the police, and creating systems that are humane, compassionate, effective, and help people to flourish and be safe and live to their full potential. Thank you, Chairman, for this opportunity.
Cory Booker: (51:50)
I’m very grateful for that powerful testimony. I would like to now introduce Miss Margaret Mims. I should really say Sheriff Margaret Mims. I’m so grateful that you would take time out of what I know is an intensely busy schedule as a sheriff. It’s grateful to have you on. Would you please give us your testimony?
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (52:11)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member and members of the committee. I’m honored to appear before you to discuss challenges faced by local governments, communities and families as we work together to respond to those with mental illness.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (52:25)
Although there are no simple solutions, we continue to develop and implement initiatives to better serve our communities, including increasing access to mental health treatment, diverting individuals with mental health conditions away from the criminal justice system, and working with mental health professionals on training programs to address those with mental health needs.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (52:49)
Increasing numbers of people with mental illnesses are coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Many times as first responders, we do not know that a call for service may involve someone with mental illness until we arrive. These calls can be very dynamic, and in some cases, dangerous.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (53:08)
In Fresno County, we have had two deputy sheriffs killed in the line of duty by mentally unstable individuals who had armed themselves. These calls for service often are repeated as we often respond to the same location or the same individual.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (53:24)
All law enforcement agencies in my county book those arrests into the Fresno County jail. We have three correctional facilities and our average daily population for March was 2,620 inmates. Of that population, 97% are in custody for felony charges. Only 3% were misdemeanids. For all intents and purposes, we are an all felony jail. To put this into perspective, this high number of felony cases exist after California passed an initiative in 2014 reducing many felony drug crimes to misdemeanors.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (54:05)
In addition to responding to calls, we are working tirelessly to provide treatment to those inside our correctional facilities. In March of this year, 41% of those in our facilities received psychotropic medication for a mental health disorder. Recently, our inmate healthcare services received accreditation from the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare. As we evaluated our system, we learned that many individuals were not receiving care when they were not in custody. No one should have to be in jail to receive mental health service.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (54:43)
The Sheriff’s Office worked with our Department of Behavioral Health to form a strategy to improve the continuum of care when individuals leave our facilities. Rather than release these individuals at the door, we transport them to a safe location. It should be noted many of these individuals are homeless, so they are taken to a shelter at one of our map points that I will discuss in a moment.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (55:06)
These efforts have resulted in strengthening our partnerships, a safer jail release plan, and in the long-term, the goal is to reduce recidivism. Moreover, most law enforcement leaders I talk to agree that incidents involving mental health crisis require more than just a law enforcement response, however, the lines are rarely bright, and in many cases, law enforcement response is required to help save lives.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (55:36)
Our law enforcement agencies work with our Behavioral Health Department, who provided us with crisis intervention training, which includes deescalation techniques. We have established a crisis intervention team comprised of mental health professionals and emergency medical services to respond with law enforcement so that both safety and professional services can be available during interactions with individuals in need of care.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (56:04)
We have also activated a sequential intercept mapping initiative. This is a cross system approach that identifies the location where law enforcement most often comes into contact with those with mental illness. We use the data from this initiative to establish a system that bridges criminal justice and mental health services and minimizes criminal justice involvement for persons with mental illness. Action plan includes creating a countywide crisis intervention team, increasing treatment of co-occurring disorders, and creating a sobriety center. We are also focusing on discharge and reentry planning to reduce recidivism, in addition to developing diversion tools.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (56:47)
We want to continue to expand these efforts, but enhanced response to mental health crisis will require significant increases in training and personnel. Federal support for this would be helpful as long as it does not displace core law enforcement support programs.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (57:06)
We should be clear that replacing law enforcement or defunding the police would result in more harm to the citizens that we serve. De-policing has the same effect. The rule of law is a fundamental principle that must be respected. When laws are broken, our citizens expect an effective response, especially when lives and their homes are threatened. I began my statements this morning by saying solutions need cooperative relationships. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed that includes all stakeholders, mental health professionals, public safety and community-based organizations. I can assure you, Senators, that law enforcement professionals across the nation want to be a part of the solution and at your service to provide any additional input you may need as policy is developed. Thank you.
Cory Booker: (58:00)
Sheriff, thank you. I’m aware of the enormity and responsibility of your job. So I’m grateful for you taking time to share your testimony and remaining for questions as well. I would now like to bring on someone who’s been invoked numerous times. We’ve heard CAHOOTS mentioned by previous witnesses and others. So I’m very excited to hear for Miss Ebony Morgan. Would you please share your testimony with us?
Ebony Morgan: (58:28)
Good morning, Chairman Booker, Ranking Member Cotton, and members of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. I was asked to come before you today to discuss my experience providing mobile crisis intervention services with the CAHOOTS program of Eugene and Springfield, Oregon.
Ebony Morgan: (58:44)
My name is Ebony Morgan. I’m a registered nurse and I work as the program coordinator of CAHOOTS. CAHOOTS is a mobile crisis response team. We respond in unarmed pairs of a crisis worker and a medical professional to calls for service through police dispatchers via police radios. We coordinate with the police departments, our community partners, to take on the appropriate calls and meet community members where they are at.
Ebony Morgan: (59:09)
I’m inspired to do this work in very personal ways. My grandmother, Carolyn, was an extraordinarily kind human being who lived with severe and persistent mental illness. She thrived until her passing under the care of my mother, also a nurse. And growing up watching my mom care for her so diligently taught me that people experiencing a mental health crisis are not to be feared, rejected, judged, or punished. They are to be cared for. Someone in a crisis needs deescalation, respect, safety, and support. As a society, we often fail to deliver that to the most vulnerable populations.
Ebony Morgan: (59:46)
My father, Charles Morgan, did not get a chance to participate in raising me. He died during an encounter with the police when he was just 25, a young Black man. My family was devastated. I was five and my sister had not yet experienced a birthday.
Ebony Morgan: (01:00:04)
When I graduated from nursing school, I declined an offer to work at our local hospital and double my income. I chose to remain with CAHOOTS where we are underfunded because this work matters, but as others have also noted today, behavioral health services should not have to be limited by a lack of funding in their efforts to support the community in a way that is proven to be safe and effective.
Ebony Morgan: (01:00:24)
Mobile crisis responses are worth every effort of implementation. For more than three decades, CAHOOTS has utilized unarmed deescalation to meet the needs of the community. This frees up local police officers to handle the calls that they’re trained to respond to and matches the needs of the community with the appropriate response.
Ebony Morgan: (01:00:42)
If we arrive on a call and find that a law enforcement presence is necessary, we can request them then via police radio and work together to come to an outcome. We can respond independently for welfare checks, suicide prevention, mediation, crisis counseling, substance abuse, and so much more. In 2019, CAHOOTS had some level of involvement in 17% to 20% of the total incoming public safety calls for service. No employee has ever lost their life or been seriously injured on the job despite never carrying a weapon, and no clients have died as a result of us showing up to help.
Ebony Morgan: (01:01:18)
CAHOOTS crisis responders are trained to overcome our own fight or flight response. When a scene is escalated, we remain cognizant of safety, show the client that we’re there to help, and skillfully deescalate the situation. In order to deescalate a client, they must be able to identify that we are not a threat to them, so it helps significantly that we are not. The honed ability to intervene calmly without giving into reactivity or impulsivity is imperative. Being unarmed allows us to default to our client-centered training because it is our only way forward. Does the client need to talk? Do they need to go to the hospital? Do they need time to sober at the sobering center?
Ebony Morgan: (01:01:58)
Helping begins when you stop seeing the client. You then start evaluating what feels threatening to the client. Cultural competency is imperative to trauma-informed care. Build in anti-racist practices from the start to learn from and avoid perpetuating systemic racism.
Ebony Morgan: (01:02:19)
Mobile crisis teams can also connect a client to existing community resources, but are not a replacement for them. These can include a 24/7 walk-in crisis center and phone line, low barrier shelters, permanent supported housing, sobering and detox centers. Each area must be empowered to identify its needs and fund those programs.
Ebony Morgan: (01:02:41)
Now, as the nation is recognizing that mental health crises are best responded to by trained mental health professionals, I am extremely hopeful that together we can find a way to provide humans with the appropriate resources for every situation, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to public safety that overburdens a group of people that did not necessarily get specifically trained for these encounters. One-size-fits-all never fits all.
Ebony Morgan: (01:03:12)
CAHOOTS is one long standing example of the role that mobile crisis response can play in a community. We operate as an addition to existing structures and thus do not replace or change the current public safety systems. Mobile crisis response, however, is a necessary and logical service to provide to communities. Thank you for making time for me today.
Cory Booker: (01:03:37)
We are really grateful for that testimony and looking forward to the questions that will come. I now have the honor to introduce Miss Terry O’Connor, who truly has an extraordinary American family, her son, as a law enforcement professional, and her late husband as well. We, as Senator Cotton said, give you our deepest condolences. Your family is a family of heroes, and we’re very much looking forward to-
Cory Booker: (01:04:03)
… Your family is a family of heroes, and we’re very much looking forward to hearing your testimony.
Terri O’Connor: (01:04:09)
As you heard from my short bio, my husband Jim was a Philadelphia Police Officer. Jim was a Corporal in SWAT who was shot and killed in the line of duty on March 13, 2020. Jim’s death will never seem real. He served the Police Department for 23 years. His father was also a Police Officer, serving for over 40 years. Our son and daughter-in-law are both currently Philadelphia Police Officers. Our Police family extends to numerous other family members too. This is the one job we all know too well.
Terri O’Connor: (01:04:43)
I, myself started out as a Police dispatcher. I had firsthand experience of hectic situations and numerous emergencies. My job was to keep a cold voice and calmness to whatever situation needs to be dealt with. Our goal was to have every officer go home at the end of each shift. Defunding the Police is dangerous. Look at what has happened in cities like Seattle and Portland and in so many large cities across the country. Murders are up, and there is a sense, especially among criminals, that there is no law and order on the streets.
Terri O’Connor: (01:05:17)
The Mayor and City Council have accepted zero accountability. This brings me to Philadelphia, where we had one of our highest murder rates in decades last year. 500 murders were committed in 2020 and more than 2,400 shootings, including 225 women and 195 children. This year we’re already on pace for an even higher murder rate, four months into the year and we have over 145 murders, 440 shootings, and 55 of those shooting victims were children. Philadelphia is a prime example of what happens when Police are demoralized and feel the pressure of a no consequences DA, like Larry Krasner, along with the narrative that often goes along with the defunding the Police rhetoric that all cops are bad.
Terri O’Connor: (01:06:06)
My son has told me that while locking criminals up, they laugh and say that they’ll be out of jail in a day or two. The criminals know there are no real consequences here in Philadelphia. My husband’s four murderers had rap sheets that could go on for days, including multiple violations of probation, drug charges, and gun charges. They all had reduced bail in cases dropped. The man who pulled the actual trigger has five murders under him, including my husband. And those were only the ones they’ve learned about so far. One of the other males in the room was wanted for two prior murders. The other males both had previous gun charges. They were holed up in a tiny, rented, one bedroom apartment with nine guns lined up and multiple drugs throughout the room.
Terri O’Connor: (01:06:55)
Who do you think should be responsible for going into the room and responding incidents involving hardened criminals like this? Mental health workers, maybe a negotiator? This is the job my husband and his coworker signed up for. They’re a split second decisions that needed to be made.
Terri O’Connor: (01:07:12)
Nobody hates a bad cop more than a good cop, but the movement to defund the Police is now about demonizing every officer and taking our country into anarchy by abolishing the Police altogether. Every officer is given at least nine months of training before graduating the academy, they then have continued yearly training. SWAT officers alone have an extra three months of training before they can serve warrants, handle a barricade situation, et cetera. The morning of March 13th, they used some of their training and use restraint when fired upon to return fire, but stop and negotiate through a closed door. The criminals asked them to stop shooting and the Police respond for them to do the same. Four other males could have been killed that day. The Police used their training to not make the situation even worse.
Terri O’Connor: (01:08:05)
All our officers could use high risk training. They sometimes have a split second to make a decision. During defining the Police reduces funding for vitally important training and ongoing professional development that needs to occur to address bad policing tactics. Police brutality usually occurs when overly aggressive policing tactics are implemented in a dramatic fashion or with evil intent. To reduce this type of violence we should reevaluate policing tactics and make sure our Police are trained in the most effective deescalation skills and techniques possible.
Terri O’Connor: (01:08:39)
Good policing requires a commitment to robust training that must be ongoing. This requires funding. A recent shooting in Philadelphia reflects the continued need for money and training. Walter Wallace was a knife wielding mentally ill man who was shot when he aggressively approached Police. Although I do not believe there was enough time for a mental health worker to be called in on this type of job, if it taser was used, he could have been subdued until he was taken to the proper facility, but the officers were not equipped with tasers. More than half of the Philadelphia officers don’t carry the recommended tasers.
Terri O’Connor: (01:09:15)
Funding is an issue. There are many reforms that we can debate. However, the defunding the Police is not one of them. To think that criminals are victims of society and the system’s totally absurd. There needs to be a respect level for our Police Officers. We need stricter penalties. We hear too many times that a criminal has a lengthy list of prior arrests, but is out of jail because of reduced bail or convictions overturned and thrown out of jail. Our DA and others need to be held accountable for letting these people out of jail. I know personally that Jim’s murderers should’ve been locked up. If they had been kept in jail, where they deserve to be, I wouldn’t be spending today, April 22nd, my 26th wedding anniversary testifying on his behalf at this congressional hearing. Jim should be here. His life mattered. Thank you.
Cory Booker: (01:10:07)
Ms. O’Connor, that testimony could not have been easy. Thank you for sharing your pain and your purpose. And we honor your husband, his heroism and his service.
Terri O’Connor: (01:10:17)
Cory Booker: (01:10:19)
I’d now like to bring up a Jersey boy, and someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Again, the Executive Director of the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Mr. Kevin Martone.
Kevin Martone: (01:10:36)
Thank you, Senator, Ranking Member Cotton. My name is Kevin Martone, and I’ll be speaking to you regarding one aspect of Police reform, the over-utilization of law enforcement to manage mental health emergencies. I’ve spent nearly 30 years working in a public mental health system as a provider of direct services as Commissioner for the mental health system in New Jersey and on various national boards and committees. I’m also part of a racially diverse family, and a family member committed to helping a loved one to find her life beyond mental illness and navigate the racism that she experiences in her daily life.
Kevin Martone: (01:11:07)
In many parts of the United States, 911 is the default mental health crisis line. Law enforcement is the default mental health emergency response, and local jails are the default treatment provider. We have criminalized a public health issue and delegated responsibility to law enforcement and the criminal justice system. There are approximately 240 million calls made to 911 in the United States each year. Estimates are that behavioral health emergencies constitute between 5% to 15%, where somewhere between 12 and 36 million of the calls to the 911 system. Many of these calls are classified by local dispatchers as wellness checks, disturbances, intoxicated persons or mental crises and do not always require a Police presence.
Kevin Martone: (01:11:45)
It is estimated that 80% of mental health calls 911 are resolved without the need for Police involvement when diverted to a crisis line, whoever law enforcement are often sent while the Police response may be justified, especially if a weapon is involved. We know that it can also create substantially adverse outcomes for communities of color and individual’s behavioral health disorders, and other disabilities.
Kevin Martone: (01:12:07)
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the mere presence of a law enforcement vehicle, an officer in uniform and/or a weapon has the potential to escalate a situation when a person is in crisis. All too often these calls for service result in unnecessary fatalities. People with serious mental disorders are 16 times more likely than the general public to be killed during a Police encounter. Today in an era when deadly Police violence is top of mind, one in four fatalities by Police involved people experiencing mental health emergency.
Kevin Martone: (01:12:37)
Half of all people killed by Police are people of color, and when combined with mental illness, the difference is nearly 10 fold. The problem is more complex than we have time for today, and I’ll highlight a few of the factors that have resulted in this. Generally, a series of cascading issues over the past several decades has resulted in two driving factors. One, fragmented, underfunded, undervalued, and inaccessible mental health system. This is compounded by poor health insurance coverage, limited funding for services at the federal, state and local level, mental health workforce shortages and geographic challenges and transportation issues that impact services access, especially in rural areas. This has been exacerbated during COVID by increasing demand and reduced provider capacity.
Kevin Martone: (01:13:18)
Number two, mental health and other systems that do not sufficiently address social determinants of health, such as racism, poverty, and access to affordable housing, employment and education. People with mental illness, especially those in communities of color are disproportionally poor, homeless and unemployed. All of these are correlated with worse outcomes for people with mental illness. The result is a de facto national policy that it is acceptable for law enforcement to manage mental health emergencies.
Kevin Martone: (01:13:45)
Most law enforcement officials that I’ve spoken with would prefer to see people with mental illness served in the mental health system. People with mental illness, their families and providers agree. The events that we have witnessed in the past year alone, the public health and economic impact of COVID, racial and social unrest and deadly Police encounters for black and brown people with mental illness have elevated awareness of the need to treat mental health as the public health issue that it is.
Kevin Martone: (01:14:07)
The good news is that there is activity. Recent congressional action has resulted in additional block grant funding for mental health and crisis services, a new Medicaid benefit for mobile crisis services and funding that can support additional workforce capacity. We have seen important bipartisan legislation passed recently, including the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Act and the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act that establishes a new 988 suicide prevention and mental health crisis line as an alternative to 911.
Kevin Martone: (01:14:35)
Solutions exist. In recent years, several communities have established mental health led or involved emergency programs such as CAHOOTS in Oregon and RightCare in Texas, but our system response efforts need to push further upstream to prevent crises from occurring to begin with. Access to evidence-based services like supportive housing, assertive community treatment, specialized peer support, employment supports, children’s systems of care, and other approaches exist to serve adults and children in the community, but do not have the capacity and workforce to meet demand in many areas of the country.
Kevin Martone: (01:15:06)
In closing, to the extent that law enforcement will likely continue to have some role for the foreseeable future in responding to mental health emergencies, at least in situations when public safety is a concern, law enforcement must own reforms for how it responds to people with mental illness, especially those for who those are black or brown.
Kevin Martone: (01:15:24)
This work should be informed by people who experience mental illness, racial equity and justice groups and other key stakeholders. And if we are to reduce law enforcement response to mental health emergencies, we must commit to addressing mental health reform and build the infrastructure needed to create an accessible mental health system.
Kevin Martone: (01:15:39)
And just to note, there are 17,000 Police Departments in this country. That’s a lot. And an underfunded mental health system. If we are to do this one by one, we’re never going to get there. We really need a national strategy that funds treatment and services and includes intentional multi-system efforts that include planning and training and design, data collection and research, if we’re really going to collectively address this issue. One by one is not going to get us there. There needs to be a national strategy. Thank you.
Cory Booker: (01:16:09)
Mr. Martone, that was incredibly valuable. And I love the point you made about a lot of our solutions shouldn’t be about just simply responding to crisis, but preventing those crises from happening in the first place. There’s a lot of wisdom in that. And that last point you made about a larger system to deal with this. Unfortunately, the focus of this hearing today is what should we be doing in terms of the first response, but I don’t want, let that important part of your testimony to be lost on Congress about getting a larger national strategy for mental health awareness. It is fractured. There are so many gaps that swallow up so many folks that then perpetuate the crises that we’re seeing. So I think that that wisdom was worth highlighting.
Cory Booker: (01:16:51)
We are at a point where everybody’s testimony is really important for the record and for the strategies I think Congress is going to do in a bipartisan way, the Senate. I don’t know if my friend and Senator Blumenthal would like to ask some questions first, I’ll yield to him.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:17:09)
I really appreciate this opportunity, Mr. Chairman. And I just want to say how important I think this hearing is, and my thanks to Chairman Booker for bringing us together on this critically important topic. I served as United States Attorney in Connecticut for four and a half years, and then as Attorney General in our state for 20 years. So I’ve worked very extensively with law enforcement, and Police interactions with people who may have disabilities or mental illness or autism aught to tremendously concern us.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:17:53)
And I’m sure many of my colleagues have said, as I did, that Tuesday’s guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial provides necessary accountability for the murder of George Floyd last May, but it isn’t true justice, not for George Floyd, not for any other black or brown American killed by law enforcement in this country. No single verdict in a single case can eliminate the generations of racial justice, inequality and inequity faced by black and brown Americans in policing and across many other aspects of society.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:18:33)
There is so much work to do. And Senator Booker has been at the forefront nationally, but also in the Senate among us, reminding us of our obligations to commit ourselves to true justice, equality, and equity. There is a need for real action, real reform and real change. And I’m very proud to work with him on legislation that can achieve that change.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:19:01)
We find ourselves in a moment of reckoning, while Derek Chauvin may have been held accountable for violating his sworn oath to protect and serve, at least three more black and brown Americans were killed by law enforcement in high profile incidents just in the last month, Adam Toledo, Dante Wright, and 20 minutes before the Chauvin verdict was announced on Tuesday, Makia Bryant, something must change, and we in the United States can make it so.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:19:44)
So let me tell you one reason why I’m committed to this most important mission. Last October, one of my constituents from east Hartford, Maureen Sorenson reached out to my office to share her concerns about her son, Curtis. See, Curtis is 13 years old. He’s African-American, he’s also a person with autism and intellectual disability. Maureen is worried about what would happen if law enforcement wherever interact with her son. She wrote to me recently, “From the outside, my child appears to look neuro-typical, but there is a delay in processing information, which scares me that an officer will not take the time to understand. Others, without knowing the situation may see this as being defiant. I do not want him nor any child or adult to be traumatized or lose their life because law enforcement didn’t take the time to know how to approach the situation.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:21:04)
Maureen is an incredible mom. She has a task that is unimaginable. For many of us. I have four children. Being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I think it is the most serious task that I, or any parent face in life. And Maureen is doing her very best to teach Curtis about law enforcement, how to react if he’s ever approached by Police, or even if he’s just asked a question. And quite frankly, she has every right and reason to be concerned.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:21:49)
She’s doing everything in her power to prepare Curtis for what may be an inevitable counter with Police. But Maureen shouldn’t have to prepare Curtis. She shouldn’t have to prepare him differently than any other parent would prepare a child. Law enforcement needs to know how to deal with these kinds of situation, how to respond to people like Curtis with autism or other behavioral health diagnoses, how to bring in community mental health services and experts when a Police response is necessary, but also capable of becoming violent, not only for Curtis, but for others who may present with disabilities, difficulties or illness. So I want to ask a question and I really appreciate the chairman indulging me with this time.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:22:55)
Major [inaudible 01:22:57], I understand that you’ve been with the Baltimore Police for 24 years. What should law enforcement in East Hartford and around the country be doing to ensure that Curtis and people like him are treated appropriately and safely by the Police?
Major Martin Bartness: (01:23:17)
Thank you for your question, Senator. I think the kind of training that we are currently developing and delivering in the Baltimore Police Department is moving in the right direction. We have training for CIT Officers, which comprise about 30% of our patrol ranks. And that training expressly deals with the kinds of topics you recommended, identifying individuals with autism and how to interact with them. We work with a host of behavioral health organizations in creating our training and delivering it, so it’s not just law enforcement, we’re representing in the classroom what we want to see practiced in the field.
Major Martin Bartness: (01:24:06)
So we work with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. We work with Behavioral Health System Baltimore. We work with Baltimore Crisis Response Inc. The Arc, which is an Oregon date organization that works with individuals with intellectual and development, mental disabilities, Disability Rights Maryland. These kinds of partnerships are absolutely essential to ensuring that our officers are prepared to meet the challenges that they’re going to have to face on the streets to deescalate incidents and then make referrals to the appropriate services.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: (01:24:45)
Thank you, Major [inaudible 01:24:47]. And thank you, Mr. Chairman. This hearing is so valuable and I hope that we can build on it in the Judiciary Committee going forward because it is a key part of what we need to do to reform and improve policing in America. Thanks.
Cory Booker: (01:25:05)
Thank you, Senator. And I would like to now call on Senator Whitehouse, who is remote.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:25:11)
Thank you very much, Chairman Booker. It is good to be with all of you. I appreciate the testimony of everyone. Ms. O’Connor, my daughter lives in Philadelphia, so I’m very glad that your husband’s family and your family have been protecting that community through multiple generations. And I just wanted to express my appreciation for their service. That is not at all, as you know, uncommon for Police work to be passed on from father to son and now daughter, and be a very important part of a family’s traditions. And I am grateful that you shared your experience with us today.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:25:59)
Senator Cornyn and I have been working for some time on a bill to improve the coordination between law enforcement and behavioral health, mental health addiction, and recovery. Both of our states have similar situations, although they’re different in many, many, many ways. One of John’s Sheriffs came to him and said, “You know, John, I’m providing more mental health services than I’m providing law enforcement services, and that’s not what we’re trained for.” And my Police Chiefs and Rhode Island tell me the same thing. And I think the problem reaches across a whole variety of areas.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:26:44)
First of all, at the point of engagement with an individual to have the crisis intervention teams and have the crisis intervention centers available so that there can be a timely and appropriate response to support the Police response is essential. Mr. Martone talked about how jails are too often the default collection point for individuals having a behavioral or mental health crisis or an addiction issue. We see that in Rhode Island as well. We also see our emergency rooms as another place where people are brought, and for emergency room doctors trying to deal with regular medical emergencies, this is not appropriate. They need to be in behavioral health treatment and quickly.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:27:38)
And the reason that the jails and the emergency rooms are playing that role, in Rhode Island anyway, is not because people blurred misdirected about where folks should go. It’s because there aren’t the behavioral mental health services and resources to meet the need. So we need to not only do a lot of crisis intervention support and develop new models for supporting Police Departments with behavioral health crisis intervention, but we need to make it a lot more robust in terms of the resources for those people. Someone in a non Police involved mental health crisis who goes to the emergency room in many places, including in Providence, Rhode Island can spend days waiting in the emergency room for services or a room to become available.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:28:33)
So the whole question of how much we invest in the necessary infrastructure is a really vital part of this conversation. I’d like to add that I was delighted to hear Senator Cornyn mention mental health courts, because we’re working … our District Court Chief Judge, Judge [inaudible 01:28:57] who was instrumental in supporting the growth of our Veterans court, which stood on the record that the superior court had in a program I started when I was Attorney General of having a drug court. And I think the mental health court is a really good idea. But as we look around for, how do you resource that? There are not a lot of resources.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:29:25)
So taking the idea of mental health courts to stand on drug courts and Veterans courts experience, I think is another aspect that we have to work on. I want to invite all colleagues to join Senator Cornyn and I in working on that measure. We’ve worked together successfully before on the re-entry measures that were part of the sentencing reform bill. And we hope very much to get our significant piece of legislation put together.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:29:54)
What I would ask the witnesses to do is to share with us what from your experience you think are the best practical models that you’ve seen, whether in your or own state and your own jurisdiction, or whether because this is your field of inquiry, you’re aware of really good examples that are taking place in other states and other jurisdictions around the country. And I will ask that as a question for the record, if you all don’t mind, there will be a week or so after the close of the hearing when Chairman Booker will allow written answers to questions for the record.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse: (01:30:36)
And if you don’t mind writing down a brief summary of what you think are the best examples of behavior health coordination with law enforcement or the best way for engaging with this population and successfully dealing with deescalation, we would love to know, because the broader … the support that we can get from states where there are really good examples, the broader the base for legislation grows in the Senate, and the more likely we can get something big done. So I’ll close with that, real gratitude to all of the witnesses. Each of whom made a very special contribution to our understanding and to this hearing. And to the extent you wouldn’t mind supplementing that with a list of what you think best practices are out there, I think we’d be very grateful as we pull this legislation together. Chairman Booker, thank you for this terrific hearing. And I will yield back whatever time I have remaining.
Cory Booker: (01:31:36)
Senator Whitehouse, I’m grateful for your comments and the work you’re doing with Senator Cornyn. I think there will be a lot of rich contributions from the witnesses in hopes that we can work with you to make that bill something that goes a long way into covering what a lot of our witnesses are saying is urgently needed. So we appreciate Senator Whitehouse’s leadership. I want to jump into … if there’s no other Democrats online, none? Then I will just jump in myself.
Cory Booker: (01:32:05)
I want to just first jump to Ms. Morgan. There was a little bit of a shadow cast on, I think that the work that CAHOOTS does and some of the testimony, and I’m wondering, could you just give us a characterization, how many incidences CAHOOTS respond to each year and how many of them do responders call Police for backup? And can you characterize those moments when … I think it was represented by another witness, that 1 out of every 60 or so times you guys call for backup, could you give some light on that, that data point? And also talk to us a little bit about what is it, what happens when they call for Police?
Ebony Morgan: (01:32:47)
Absolutely. So the total amount of calls we were dispatched to in 2019, which is our most recent data, wound up to be about 17% of the calls, or just over 17,700. On those calls, we requested Police backup about 1.5%, almost, of the time. It was 311 out of that 17,700. And of those calls that we did call for backup, the 311, we called for code three cover, which is lights and sirens, about 5% of the time. So it is very [crosstalk 01:33:37]-
Cory Booker: (01:33:36)
You be more explicit? Code three coverage, just explain what that means.
Ebony Morgan: (01:33:39)
Yeah. Code three coverage means that in that exact moment, we believe there’s an imminent threat to someone, ourselves, the client, a bystander that we’re going to need a Police response for immediately. So part of what makes this program work is that we have that access. By carrying the Police radios, if a situation either escalates or is a situation that came to us, but is appropriate for a law enforcement response, we can request them and they can come quickly.
Ebony Morgan: (01:34:08)
What might have us determine that we need a law enforcement response is typically going to be safety related. It’s going to be, we are a consent based program because we don’t have the authority of law enforcement to take anybody’s rights away. So people can choose to engage with us or not. If they choose not to, but are not behaving in a safe way, we can’t just let them be unsafe. And that is where we might end up bringing in law enforcement. [crosstalk 01:34:34]
Cory Booker: (01:34:34)
So it’s safe say it’s a fraction of the time, 1.7% you call for Police, and a fraction of that is because of imminent harm or danger to other people?
Ebony Morgan: (01:34:47)
Cory Booker: (01:34:48)
Got it. Can I just, I want to move on for you in the limited time that I have. Can I, Mr. Martone, you, again, I just find your perspective on this so valuable about the larger crisis in America that we do not have a mental health care system that in any way meets the challenges we have, and it is a crisis of empathy. It’s a crisis of compassion. It’s a poverty really of our ability to love one another in a substantive way and protect ourselves. Clearly, our lack of doing it isn’t just a harm to the person struggling with mental health. It’s a harm to all of us. It’s a self-inflicted wound.
Cory Booker: (01:35:32)
So can I just ask you, I’m just trying to figure out ways to build upon your testimony in terms of really good guidance about what we should be doing. So when you work with states and local governments, what resources are there that they most frequently request? What are these professionals who are supposed to keep us safe saying to you that they most need?
Kevin Martone: (01:35:56)
Thank you, Senator, for the question. In the crisis space, I think, and you heard it from the CAHOOTS program, you know …
Kevin Martone: (01:36:03)
… I think, and you heard us in the CAHOOTS program, when calls are diverted to crisis centers, 80% or 90% of those calls can be diverted on the phone from the start. And then those that can’t be diverted often then go to a mobile response program like CAHOOTS, and many different states have different types of mobile response programs. And then when mobile response programs engage a person, they then can divert a person from more restrictive settings, like law enforcement or emergency departments. They can divert people to linkages with outpatient services and things like that.
Kevin Martone: (01:36:32)
And what we hear in the crisis space is, “Yeah, we may have a program in Eugene,” or we may have a program in some state that there’s one in a county for a million people. And, the problem is there’s not enough capacity. So when we think about the capacity for call center, we have the new 988 national hotline that’s going to be stood up. We need to make sure that there’s enough capacity in those systems to sufficiently handle calls that may be instead of going to 911 go to 988, or maybe triaged from 911 to 988. And we need enough resources so that we could stand up a sufficient mobile capacity so that… You know, police can respond right away, right? Mobile crisis teams, if they can’t respond in a very short period of time, it’s going to just default again to the police response. So mobile response programs need to have that capacity.
Kevin Martone: (01:37:21)
And then, there needs to be that next step beyond mobile, right? There needs to be crisis stabilization programs or drop-offs, or a mental health program that can receive that crisis and then begin to serve that person. All that trying to divert a person back upstream and away from the law enforcement system.
Cory Booker: (01:37:38)
So I’m going to give you just as cogent and quickly as you can, because you’re going to be asked this in writing by Senator Whitehouse. You are now the better looking, more-haired Senator from New Jersey. Three things that you would want to get into the bill, give it to me real quick. Three things.
Kevin Martone: (01:37:51)
I think we need additional federal Medicaid dollars to match state dollars so that we can provide enhanced capacity to provide these services out there. There’s some of that. I think we need more linkages to upstream services. Some of that is state funding, but a lot of it again is Medicaid matching dollars. Some of it also, frankly, is rapid rehousing, access to housing. Right? Many of these folks are homeless. We need rapid linkages to housing situations for folks as well, because so much of this is tied to that.
Cory Booker: (01:38:23)
Yeah, that’s my experience as well. That’s really, really, really insightful. I’d like to jump to Major Bartness and again, thank you for your incredible service and leadership. So building on some of the things we’ve asked before with CAHOOTS, tell me this, does responding to calls involving people in crisis or with mental illness divert law enforcement resources? In other words, is this crisis a drain on your ability to focus your department on other areas where you could help better keep people safe?
Major Martin Bartness: (01:38:57)
Thank you for the question Senator. It absolutely is. As I indicated in my testimony and Mr. Martone, I believe, also indicated, the very significant percentage of 911 calls coming into law enforcement somewhere around 10% is substantial. And that is time spent away from addressing more traditional matters related to public disorder, crime and safety.
Major Martin Bartness: (01:39:27)
And these kinds of calls, to be handled properly, are not disposed of quickly. Police officers, and we’re very intentional about this, in educating our officers to spend time with consumers on these calls, because we don’t want to have to continually come back. We want to do our very best to link them through to community-based services. And so we connect them with the crisis hotline at our crisis response center, and we really endeavor to get these folks the treatment that they need. The reality is, as Mr. Martone has stated, the services are not there to meet the demands of the population.
Cory Booker: (01:40:13)
I really appreciate that. I want to jump to Ms. Myrick really quick. One thing we haven’t talked too much about is peer support, peer to peer, and how powerful that could be. Could you just give me really quickly, why do you think peer support is so important in behavioral healthcare and generally, what function does it serve?
Keris Myrick: (01:40:32)
Sure. Thank you for the question. Peer support is essential, is all I can say. The first time I met a peer who looked like me, it was the first time I thought, “Okay, wow, I can really get better,” somebody who’d been through what I had been through. And evidence has shown with peers who have training, who are certified and have training, can really support people especially in crisis to help identify what is going on. They can slow things down. We’ve heard from other people giving testimony about how it’s important to slow things down in order for people to make their needs known, especially when they’re in crisis and then help get connected to the resources that they need.
Keris Myrick: (01:41:19)
Peer supporters are trained to do that, and they use also other evidence-based tools and mechanisms to do so. One of the things that I think is critically important are things like wellness and recovery action plans. Which can help people to understand, when are they doing well and when are things starting to break down, in order to prevent a crisis and then develop a plan for what happens if they do enter crisis and post-crisis.
Keris Myrick: (01:41:46)
The legal means to do that is through psychiatric advanced directives, which peers can also help people do. And I also think that peers who are families to support other families and other parents is also another critically important step, so families and parents have a better understanding of how to support their loved one pre, post and during crisis. So, having peers on mobile crisis teams, being able to meet people where they are, possibly support them in the field, having them as part of the 988 workforce response, also. And 988 is the number of people can call when they need support, where they can take the time on the call to help with some of the triage and work with people immediately, is another way that peer supporters can be used.
Keris Myrick: (01:42:39)
And lastly, we’ve heard people need places to go. It might be fine that you can get the crisis team there, but what about where the people go if they need some place safe to go, but may not need hospitalization? Peer support is totally under utilized, totally underfunded. And if there were more peer support respites where people can go and have peer support 24/7 and get that space away from possible crisis that is contributing to their mental health distress, is critically important and needs to be part of the mental health crisis response ecosystem.
Cory Booker: (01:43:19)
That is excellent. It also resonates some with the point of Mr. Martone about the power of supportive housing with people that are there. Senator Cotton, who had to attend to business on the Floor of the United States Senate is back. Just so folks know, he’s going to give his questioning, then we’re going to go to Senator Padilla. And then I think we’re going to end it at that point and wrap the hearing. So I appreciate the patience of the witnesses and I’m honored to turn over to my ranking member, Senator Cotton.
Tom Cotton: (01:43:49)
Thank you, Senator Booker, and thanks to all the witnesses for your patience. As Senator Booker said, we are all at the mercy of the Senate Floor schedule, but I know that all of our colleagues on this subcommittee have taken a great interest in the subject and very much appreciate your appearance here.
Tom Cotton: (01:44:04)
Ms. O’Connor, I’d like to start with you. What happened to your husband is a tragedy, especially because it was so preventable. If it wasn’t for the criminal leniency efforts in Philadelphia that released dangerous criminals over and over again, we wouldn’t have officers like your husband repeatedly facing the same kind of dangerous arrests. You mentioned in your testimony the extensive training that he received throughout his career, including high risk training. You also come, as you testified, from a law enforcement family. Do you find that improving training available to officers helps to protect not only the officers, but also the suspects they encounter?
Terri O’Connor: (01:44:47)
The training is necessary. My time is a 911 dispatcher takes me back to the… There’s just not enough time, when these calls come out, they need immediate response. I don’t know how long it would take to get a mental health worker to show up to a situation. I feel like the police are always going to be the first ones to respond, and then maybe they can go from there and decide, they can get a mental health worker in? But I couldn’t get somebody to come out and change the lights on the corner for two days, or if we needed a tow truck to come, it could take hours.
Terri O’Connor: (01:45:27)
My concern would be, how long it would take to get someone out there? So the police, they need the extra training as much as possible because they’re probably going to be the first ones to deal with the situation at hand immediately. They can assess from there, but the response time, it’s probably, it’s not realistic.
Tom Cotton: (01:45:46)
In your experience in law enforcement and your husband’s and your entire family’s, when budgets are tight and especially when budgets are cut, is training often the first thing that gets cut?
Terri O’Connor: (01:45:59)
I would say so, yes, definitely. They have to. It’s just unfortunate that’s the way things are going to happen. And also right now in Philadelphia and probably across the country, the police officers were, they’re low. People are retiring and people, they’re not joining the academy right now. All of it we’re. We’re in trouble. Our numbers are really too low because of the concerns of not having the support and overall defunding the police. And they are who is going to be called first in any situation, if you need help, you are calling the police. They need to have all training possible in many different situations.
Tom Cotton: (01:46:41)
Thank you, Ms. O’Connor. I would turn to Sheriff Mims. You said in your testimony that 97% of the inmates in your jail are there on felony charges, implying they’ve committed pretty serious crimes. A large number of those inmates were also receiving some sort of medication for a mental health disorder while in your jail. Is it fair to say then, that a significant number of the serious criminals you encounter also have mental health issues and would it put mental health workers and possibly bystanders in danger to have only a non-police response to these incidents?
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (01:47:17)
Yes, Senator. A large number of our calls for service do involve those with mental health illnesses. And of course the concern is we have some dual diagnosis going on. Not only do they have criminal behavior, they have the mental health behavior as well as maybe a substance abuse issue.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (01:47:41)
And these are calls, for instance that I testified to, that are very dynamic, they enroll very fast. And law enforcement do come into contact very often with those that are mentally ill, and have to take enforcement action because of the crimes that they committed.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (01:47:57)
For example, the two deputies that we lost in the line of duty at the hands of an armed mentally ill person, one was a vehicle stop where that person came right out of the vehicle and shot the deputy as he was approaching the car. The other one was a burglary in progress, where we don’t know that the person that is involved in this also has a mental illness.
Sheriff Margaret Mims: (01:48:23)
So they’re very dynamic calls, they unfold very quickly. They’re very dynamic. And we’re coming into contact with [inaudible 01:48:31] who have been involved in criminal activity that are also mentally ill more and more.
Tom Cotton: (01:48:36)
Thank you as my time is concluding, I’d like to return to Ms. O’Connor and just express again, my deepest condolences and sympathy for your loss, as well as my gratitude for your testimony today. I know that this must’ve been a hard day to tell your story, but may the memory of your husband and your loving marriage always be a blessing to you and to those who loved him. Thank you.
Terri O’Connor: (01:49:03)
Cory Booker: (01:49:09)
Thank you, Senator Cotton. I would like to turn to Senator Padilla who is on remotely.
Alex Padilla: (01:49:15)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. My first question is for Ms. Myrick, and I want to begin by just thanking you for openly sharing your experience of living with a mental illness. You know, it’s only by talking about it more that we can improve understanding and awareness of the mental health conditions and the impact that it has on people’s lives, families lives. And in so doing, help undo the stigma that’s too often associated with mental illness that keeps us from talking about it individually, as families and certainly when it comes to [inaudible 01:49:59] public policy and investing in better services and support. I just want to acknowledge that up front, and it means a lot to me and I commend you for that.
Alex Padilla: (01:50:10)
Now, in your testimony, you have mentioned your personal experience with a police encounter. And what I would like to hear more about how that encounter, in turn, affected your mental health and your general wellbeing?
Keris Myrick: (01:50:37)
Thank you for the question. And I speak up and speak out, especially as an African-American, because I couldn’t find anybody who was talking about their personal story of living with a diagnosis specifically of schizophrenia. I have to ask permission from my father, “Can I speak out?” Because he’s part of this story too. Without his loving support of him and my mom, who’s no longer living, and the rest of my family truthfully, I wouldn’t be here.
Keris Myrick: (01:51:08)
The impact of that first experience, I was actually wearing a pair of my beloved cherry red Doc Marten shoes. And I loved those shoes, it was my first pair of Doc Martens, takes forever to break those suckers in. They were broken in and I was wearing them on that day, and they were ripped from my feet as people were struggling with me, trying to subdue me to participate in what I didn’t understand was happening.
Keris Myrick: (01:51:37)
And it wasn’t, again, about my mental illness. It was about seeing people who look like me, in my past, treated awfully and having bad outcomes. And I didn’t want to be a victim. I just didn’t. And that’s what I was really fighting against. So what that really led to was number one, I never wore those red shoes again, it took years and years. It took about 15 years before I ever put those shoes back on. They actually don’t fit and now I have about 20 pairs of Doc Martens. But I didn’t wear their shoes ever again. I wasn’t willing to accept treatment, especially when I was not at my best. Every hospitalization after was involuntary and did involve police coming to take me to the hospital because I thought that’s what it was like to go to a psychiatric hospital. Hadn’t seen it done any other way. So I didn’t want to have anything to do with that.
Keris Myrick: (01:52:35)
And, even talking about it, I’m sorry. It’s like my heart is super duper racing because it still brings up a lot of memories and trauma that, on top of having an illness in which you’re trying to recover, no one should have to experience.
Alex Padilla: (01:52:50)
And you hit the exact right word that I was anticipating. It was traumatic. It was additional trauma, which doesn’t help someone who is already working to cope with or overcome a mental health condition. So there’s got to be smarter ways to do this. And I appreciate you helping me make the point. And you’re right, in communities of color especially, we don’t talk about this enough.
Alex Padilla: (01:53:18)
I have a followup question for Major Bartness, because there’s also the flip side to this point. As I have come to learn in recent years, correct me if I’m wrong, but in law enforcement there are more sworn officers who die by suicide every year then lose their lives in the line duty. Correct me if I’m wrong. And so I just wanted to hear from you for a few minutes about the psychological toll that use of force and other first responder experience has on law enforcement officers, and suggestions, ideas on how to acknowledge that and build that into training and support for sworn officers?
Major Martin Bartness: (01:54:15)
Thank you, Senator Padilla. Secondary trauma in law enforcement is a very serious issue, we should highlight it. And it’s incumbent upon police departments to develop very robust employee assistance programs and ensure that those resources, confidential, are available to law enforcement and their family members. Because, those family members also live with the baggage that our officers bring home. And we very intentionally have to create a culture where we recognize that secondary trauma is going to occur, and that officers need to talk about it and that there is a very well-developed system that they know how to access in real time when they’re struggling.
Major Martin Bartness: (01:55:12)
And not every department, obviously, is doing very well with that. And so it too is a responsibility that as we assess the state of our profession at this moment in history, that has to be given attention. So thank you for your attention to it.
Alex Padilla: (01:55:30)
Thank you, clearly a topic of ongoing conversation. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Cory Booker: (01:55:35)
Senator Padilla, I’m grateful. I’m going to now adjourn the hearing. QFRs… I’m sorry, what’s that? Oh, I’m sorry. Senator Ossoff. I apologize. I’m told you we’re online.
Jon Ossoff: (01:55:47)
All good, no problem, my friend. Thank you, Mr. Chairman for convening this hearing and thank you to the panel. I know we have votes, so I’ll do my best to be concise. Major Bartness, thank you for being here and thank you for your service.
Jon Ossoff: (01:56:01)
In response to an increase in mental health related emergency calls during the pandemic, Brookhaven, Georgia, a small city, pioneered a co-responder crisis intervention system. The mayor of Brookhaven, John Ernst, said that this has helped to deescalate situations involving individuals suffering from mental illness who may be involved in contact with law enforcement or calls to 911.
Jon Ossoff: (01:56:33)
I’d like, Major Bartness, for you to comment on how co-responder programs like the one in Brookhaven, Georgia might help to deescalate such interactions and ensure that neither public nor the safety and health of those suffering from mental illness is jeopardized when police and law enforcement and emergency services respond to such calls.
Major Martin Bartness: (01:56:59)
Thank you, Senator. I think the co-responder model is outstanding. We have it here in Baltimore. The challenge we have is that it’s not large enough. It is operational seven days a week, but only eight hours a day. And it is one team responsible for the entire city of Baltimore during that eight hour shift. So, it’s a licensed clinical social worker paired with a highly trained CIT officer and they respond to some of these most acute calls for service.
Major Martin Bartness: (01:57:35)
What it does allow us to do is what Ms. O’Connor rightly pointed out earlier, and that is, as these calls come in with an officer in the field able to immediately respond, they’re able to get there quickly, they don’t have to wait an indeterminate amount of time. But in order to do that to scale, there has to be more funding for these teams. They’re fantastic. They play off each other’s skills, they deescalate, and then they refer to community-based services and case management to get these consumers who need the help.
Jon Ossoff: (01:58:11)
Thank you. Major Bartness. And Ms. Myrick, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about necessary investments in mental health services in Georgia and across the country. And first of all, to be clear, I’ve not seen any evidence that people suffering with mental illness are any more likely to commit violent crime than anyone else in the population. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, they are not. And indeed, studies have shown that those suffering mental illness are in fact much more likely to be victims of violent crime.
Jon Ossoff: (01:58:43)
We also know that, at least according to some research, that individuals with untreated mental illness in particular who do come in contact with law enforcement in emergency situations are more likely to be killed in the encounter. And I’d like to hear from you, your view on the importance of increasing our national investment in mental health care services, and what kinds of social services in particular you think are neglected or lacking generally speaking across the country.
Keris Myrick: (01:59:20)
Oh, sure. Thank you. And, definitely since the institutionalization of mental health care services and community-based services have never been fully funded, they’re woefully underfunded. And in order to bring up an ecosystem of support for people that move through the continuum of their health and wellness, which includes times of when people are in crisis, we need to look at the system as a whole system that also interacts with other social services and systems such as housing, employment, physical health care, mental health care. Most people with mental health conditions, especially serious mental illness, want everything that anybody else wants. Most importantly, they want to work. And many are told, like myself, to go on disability which impedes sometimes your ability to go to work because of how the system of SSI and SSDI work. So if we had to fund, like if we could fully fund a system, I think the system would include well-trained behavioral health professionals, it would include peer support and family support. Family support for adults with serious mental illness is not fully funded. It is funded for parents who are peers to other parents.
Keris Myrick: (02:00:42)
It would include things like peer respite, as well as family respite. We haven’t even talked about family respite. Those don’t even exist, but family sometimes also [inaudible 02:00:54] 24/7 to help support their loved ones. Other things I think that are critically important are mobile crisis teams that do include a behavioral health professional and a peer supporter in order to be in the community. And also, community supports that are sometimes not even part of the system, because sometimes people won’t go to the mental health system but they may go to their church or their barbershop. How do we place people there that can be helpful?
Keris Myrick: (02:01:24)
The other things that people need as Kevin Martone pointed out, most importantly, if you don’t have a house how can you participate in treatment and do that with any kind of consistency? Housing is critical. Housing is first and for people with both mental health and substance use disorders. I think there need to be better partnerships across jurisdictions, including criminal justice and police systems, in order for mental health, criminal justice and police to work on far better together. And lastly… I had another one and I forgot it. There’s so much. So I think that’ll give you your list. Thank you.
Jon Ossoff: (02:02:07)
Thank you, Ms. Myrick. Major Bartness, my time is up, I am going to ask you for the record to respond to a more general inquiry. I’ve asked this of the FBI Director, I’ve asked this of nominees for senior positions at DOJ, as well as in discussions with leaders in Georgia about the increase in violent crime that we’ve seen nationally over the last year particularly during this COVID 19 pandemic, and its causes. How you’ve responded in Baltimore, what you assess to be the factors driving the increase in crime?
Jon Ossoff: (02:02:37)
We’ve seen a significant increase in the murder rate in Atlanta. We’ve seen a higher rate of violent crime in Columbus and in other parts of my state, I know it’s a national dynamic. And so I will be submitting to you for the record, Major Bartness, an opportunity to present your analysis to this committee of what’s causing this increase in violent crime. And I thank you for being here. I thank all of our witnesses for your testimony. Mr. Chairman, I yield.
Cory Booker: (02:03:04)
Thank you very much. I agree, I want to give a lot of gratitude to all the witnesses who’ve been here who shared such essentially important testimony. This is a crisis in our country, and this is a great hearing where we’ve talked about solutions. I apologize, the floor vote is expiring, so I am going to sprint and run. But I will remind everybody that Questions For the Record are due in one week. The hearing record will be open for one week for statements and letters or any other contribution that the incredible witnesses want to make to the constructive work that the United States Senate and especially the Judiciary Committee has before it. So thank you very much, everyone. I appreciate it and have a good day. [crosstalk 02:03:52]