New York state lawmakers, mental health care experts and criminal justice advocates gathered Wednesday in Albany to push for the passage of a measure named in honor of a man who died while in custody of the Rochester Police Department.
The proposal would create state and regional mental health units that would handle mental health crises instead of police. Units would consist of mental health workers, peers and EMTs.
The legislation is named in honor of Daniel Prude, who died while in the custody of the Rochester Police Department. Officers responded as Prude was experiencing a mental health crisis.
"It would completely the change the crisis response system that we have today, and ultimately what would happen is when we do have mental health professionals show up to to these crises, is that people are going to have their lives saved," said Democratic state Sen. Samra Brouk, a sponsor of the legislation.
The bill is being considered amid a broader call in the wake of the pandemic for a bigger focus on mental health care. Gov. Kathy Hochul this year has proposed billions of dollars to expand mental health care programs as well as housing for people who are at risk of homelessness.
"More people are talking about mental health now and we’re seeing more resources put into a system that has been completely left crippled," Brouk said.
During the incident on March 23, 2020, several police officers restrained Prude. He was naked on the ground and police placed a spit hood over his head.
Prude lost consciousness during the restraint. He was taken to the hospital and placed on life support. He died on March 30.
An autopsy reported Prude had the drug angel dust in his system.
The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide caused by asphyxia. Following an investigation into the incident, the officers involved did not face any charges.
"They placed a spit hood over his head," said Rochester Democratic Assemblyman Harry Bronson. "There was no compassion, no humanity, when he was held down by police officers."
Creating mental health teams could lead to more peaceful outcomes for those struggling with mental health.
"Daniel’s Law teams will be able to de-escalate the crisis situation right there on the street and then we would be able to connect people with appropriate services in the communiity," said Luke Sikinyi, the policy director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.
Opponents of the bill have brought up concerns over the safety of responders without law enforcement present.
Republican state Senator Pat Gallivan, a former law enforcement officer, is skeptical of removing police entirely from such situations.
"Oftentimes, we have situations when someone has a mental health issue, it involves someone who is agitated, someone with a weapon, someone who may be walking down the middle of the street who poses a danger to public safety, a danger to the public," he said.
But Gallivan acknowledges police need more mental health care training.
"That doesn’t mean though that we shouldn’t do a better job of training our law enforcement officers to recognize people who are having mental health issues and appropriately deal with that individual," he said.