Police response to mental health calls will change this Sunday

Spokane Police Generic
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SPOKANE, Wash — A law affecting the relationship between police and people with mental health disorders goes into effect this Sunday. While advocates say it makes people safer, law enforcement officers are worried it limits their power.

Only three situations are clearly outlined in House Bill 1310 as to when police can use force. Those three circumstances are when police have probable cause a crime has been committed, someone is escaping a crime scene, or there is a threat of imminent danger.

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Daniel Fox, clinical supervisor for Passages says there are times when law enforcement needs to use force.

“Sometimes there’s a gray area, where that individual is not going to agree to get mental health support on their own,” said Fox. “And so sometimes, they need to be helped to do that, and this new law is kind of going to take away those moments when that person may be forced to get some help.”

The gray areas are exactly why Dr. Kamaljit Floura, Chief Medical Officer for Inland Northwest Behavioral Health, wants the law more clearly defined.

“This bill, 1310 is well intended, but it’s in its baby stage,” Dr. Floura said. “It needs more interpretation and clarification.”

A part of this bill says when someone is in a mental health crisis, police need to call in a mental professional if possible. Spokane Police Department has already implemented this in the behavioral health unit.

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“It is always a struggle because the person who is in crisis, he does not want help — we want to give the help, he needs the help, but still, how to provide that help is the question,” Dr. Floura explained.

These health professionals also worry about the person who calls 911 to begin with.

“Sometimes what happens is that person seems okay, they go right back in, they haven’t gotten any treatment because they refuse treatment and what happens is it escalates and somebody in the home gets hurt,” Fox said.

This law goes into effect on Sunday.

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