The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice and counterterrorism held a hearing Thursday on the use of mental health experts as first responders to people in crisis.
As you might imagine, multiple proposals are on the table, and senators relished the opportunity to tag and fund a new federal program amid calls to defund police departments.
While some reform, including training for police and hostage negotiators, deserves more attention, the bill introduced by Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, isn’t a worthy alternative. His legislation would create a fund for five-year grants through fiscal 2025.
The key problem with Mr. Van Hollen’s bill is that the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees social programs, would lead the federal pack (because of the mental health angle) to say that police are part of the problem if and when a “situation” escalates. His proposal would create a $100 million federal program to bolster local agencies that look to alternatives for a law enforcement response.
Do you really think Democrats would do away with a federal program they themselves established? Or that states would say, “No, we don’t want federal money?”
Criminal defense attorneys and law professors are likely to be grinning from ear to ear in anticipation of “mental health” boons for their clents and classes. “The devil made them do it.” “The woman at the drive-thru pissed her off.”
Consider this incident: A couple of weeks ago, a woman drove into a crowd outside a Taco Bell in Waldorf, Maryland, and then rammed her car into the fast-food shop. Having been in a dispute with a Taco Bell employee, she decided to unleash her anger on patrons outside the restaurant and on the restaurant itself.
Exactly who and/or what angered her we don’t know.
When she was done directing her anger, she drove off. Police first found her car, and then the woman and her passenger, who were charged with attempted murder and other offenses.
We know that the driver knows right from wrong because she is a corrections officer — or at least she was until the Taco Bell incident.
Fortunately, none of the bystanders was critically injured. But the offender could still mount a not-guilty offense. She could tell the judge she needs anger management courses: “I’m stressed, your honor. Ya know, the COVID-19 stuff. As it was, she blew my high. I toked a legal joint before I hit Taco Bell.”
Not to make light of the violence, but you never know somebody’s state of mind — and neither do police, whose job is to handle a situation as they see it.
Also, waiting for mental health experts to get to the scene and be briefed on what has happened can take ages during a crisis, especially a crisis that’s already escalated.
Mr. Van Hollen is proposing stacking the deck against law and order with a moral compass — the very thing that was missing at Taco Bell that night. His proposed program won’t fix such problems.
χ Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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