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Last month, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) offered up ten questions on crime, policing, and gun violence for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as they vie for the White House. One question focused squarely on mental health, and it underscored a very real problem: While police officers increasingly deal with residents in their communities who suffer from mental illness — often to tragic ends — mental health training is typically lacking or inadequate in many police departments across the country.
This week, Clinton released her full position on mental health reform in the U.S. — a topic that, by some measures, has garnered an unusual amount of pre-election attention.
Trump has not yet fully articulated a vision for mental health reform.
Both candidates, however, have provided answers to the IACP’s question on mental health and law enforcement, so Undark asked John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating barriers to the treatment of severe mental illness, to annotate their responses. (You’ll find his annotations by hovering over or clicking on any text that appears highlighted — like this. )
The relevant question from the IACP was as follows:
“Lack of adequate mental health services have resulted in a large portion of law enforcement’s calls for service involving individuals with mental illness. What steps will you take to alleviate law enforcement’s role in mental health intervention?”
And here are the candidates’ responses, with Snook’s annotations included:
DONALD TRUMP: Unfortunately, law enforcement will have to continue to play a role in how we proceed as a nation with mental health reform. I will work with Congress to see that mental health reform is a top priority in my administration. As we move toward solving these problems, perhaps law enforcement’s role can be diminished and community services and family involvement might be fundamental to fixing a very broke system.
HILLARY CLINTON: The mental health crisis in America must be treated as the health issue that it is. However, much like the opioid epidemic, our failure as a nation to invest in mental health care has turned our criminal justice system into the first, and often primary, source of care for too many Americans who need treatment. Over half of prison and jail inmates today have a mental health issue. Many of these individuals are first-time or nonviolent offenders, and it is likely that many of them would never have had contact with the criminal justice system had they received adequate treatment. This issue is critical for those with mental health issues and their families. It’s also critical to our law enforcement officers who have taken on an increasing role in mental health interventions.
As president, I will pursue a robust mental health agenda that ensures Americans have access to mental health treatment, in community settings wherever possible, and that works to eliminate the stigma that is too often associated with seeking out treatment for mental health. In addition, for those with mental health problems who do enter the criminal justice system, I will increase investments in local programs such as specialized courts, drug courts, and veterans’ treatment courts, which help put individuals with mental health problems on the path to treatment and can reduce rates of recidivism. Finally, we know that we will never entirely eliminate the interaction between law enforcement officers and the mental health crisis in America—but we can do more to ensure they are prepared and supported to intervene when they must. I will fight to provide resources to invest in training on crisis intervention and referral to treatment.
I asked Snook if he had any additional comments. Here’s what he had to say: “Our overarching biggest takeaway is just how much of a sea change having both the IACP ask and candidates answer specific questions on mental illness care is for our nation. It both shows how bad the crisis has gotten and signals that we have finally reached a point where decision makers are listening to the voices of groups like law enforcement who have been saying for years that this is a major issue. It bodes well for finally achieving real mental health reform.”
We’ll continue annotating the candidates’ various positions on science and public health matters over the coming weeks. Stay tuned…