Protesters call for law requiring trained professionals respond to mental health calls

Daniel Prude

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — As protests for justice for Daniel Prude continue, there’s a lot of discussion around mental health. Over the weekend, Mayor Lovely Warren and Rochester Police Chief La’Ron Singletary announced a few changes they’ll be making to adjust policing when it comes to mental health calls.

The changes include removing the Family Crisis Intervention team from the police department and moving it to the department of youth and recreation. She also said the city will be working with the RASE commission to continue improving responses to mental health crises. Availability of mental health professionals is also being doubled.

Protesters have three specific demands. First, a ban on police use of force against peaceful protesters. Rochester City Councilperson Mary Lupien said banning the use chemical weapons is important.

“When police show a militaristic response they send the message that the community is the enemy and we are not. We are in this together to protect our community from any harm,” Lupien said.

Protesters are also advocating for Daniel’s Law which would require mental health professionals to respond to emergency mental health calls instead of police. Jaime Mahler is a mental health therapist in the community and spoke about this at a rally on Saturday.

“When you approach them with compassion and empathy, gentleness, what can happen is people aren’t on their guard anymore, they’re ready to talk and in crisis mode what happens is people tend to need their basic needs met before they can listen and that didn’t happen with Daniel Prude,” said Mahler.

Monroe County already has the Forensic Intervention Team, which is a group of mental health professionals which police officers can call to help respond to mental health calls. Monroe county Sheriff Todd Baxter said they had around a thousand calls in August alone.

“Most of those are precipitated by us where we’re going to the scene and saying, ‘you know what, this is not really a job for law enforcement, let’s call our FIT friends. The biggest thing that changed was our culture,” Sheriff Baxter said.

The group’s third demand is to pass a law protecting officers who intervene in situations of misconduct by other officers. This would prevent them from being fired if they step in. Under the law, officers who don’t intervene in these types of situations could be fired and be prevented from ever working as an officer in New York again.

“There’s a disincentive that if an officer does the right thing the union will no longer protect them, they will be ostracized and we need to make sure that officers can do the right thing for this to not happen again,” Lupien said.

There will be a Zoom event on Wednesday evening to further discuss these demands, including the legislation they are proposing.

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