A news release from Pennsylvania state representative Thomas Caltagirone:
State Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, said the governor has signed his legislation into law that will provide training for law enforcement officials and members of the judicial system on identifying and interacting with people suffering from mental illness, intellectual disabilities and autism.
Caltagirone said the House passed the legislation in February and it was passed by the Senate in June.
"It is a privilege to see this reach Governor Tom Wolf's desk," Caltagirone said.
The law (Act 25 of 2015) requires police officers and the minor judiciary, such as magisterial district judges, to receive training on the recognition and proper de-escalation techniques to be used when interacting with people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities or autism.
"We aren't reinventing the wheel, but we are enhancing law enforcement training," Caltagirone said.
Municipal police officers will be required to receive training though the Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission. Training for magisterial district judges will be done through continuing education requirements and would need to take place every six years.
"Step one is getting the appropriate training. Step two is putting it to work," Caltagirone said. "I cannot stress enough the importance of de-escalation techniques that will be part of the trainings. If a police officer can quickly identify a person experiencing a mental breakdown and use proven crisis intervention techniques to de-escalate a situation, we have a public safety victory."The Scranton Times-Tribune reports:
Additionally, the training will include instruction on diversionary options. It will include information on services available for people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities or autism.
"Moral of the story: incarceration should not be the go-to solution," Caltagirone said.
The training legislation was first introduced in the late 1990s after a well-publicized incident in which a young Harrisburg man with autism had an encounter with city police. He was looking in the window of his own home at the time.
The case spurred the Autism Society of America Harrisburg Chapter to produce a training video to raise awareness about autism for police departments. The video was produced and widely distributed with the help of a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council. This was a voluntary effort, however, and various lawmakers took up the cause of having a mandatory training requirement in state law.
The training legislation has appeared in nearly every session since then, but never made it to the finish line.
This time things were different, with the House approving the bill 197-1 shortly after the new session began in January. The Senate approved the bill unanimously last month without any amendments, so it went straight to the governor for action.