NAMI’s core belief is simple: we believe in help, not handcuffs.

People with mental illness and communities of color have disproportionate interactions with police. Growing calls for racial justice have sparked a critical, nationwide conversation in our society about the role of law enforcement, specifically regarding mental health and especially how it affects communities of color. Many are calling for reprioritizing and committing to a new approach of investing in communities and reducing the need for law enforcement engagement. NAMI recognizes the intersectionality of racism, mental health, and law enforcement and welcomes this national dialogue.

What We Are Doing

This weekend, NAMI CEO Dan Gillison, Jr. and long-time mental health peer advocate Bill Carruthers Jr. wrote an op-edoutlining the changes needed to effectively respond to people in crisis. In this op-ed, they write, “To change outcomes, we need to disrupt the system that puts police at the forefront of crisis response.”

The op-ed outlines what NAMI sees as four areas of focus for improving community mental health: crisis care, inpatient care, social support and outpatient care. The op-ed also highlights our recently released publication, “Divert to What? Community Services that Enhance Diversion,” which helps communities identify gaps and opportunities to implement an effective continuum of mental health care. We encourage you to share this resource with your local partners to help elevate conversations about where investment is needed to help people get and stay well.

We also acknowledge the role that law enforcement still plays while we work toward a better system. NAMI has long advocated for training in mental health and de-escalation for law enforcement, changes in agencies’ policies and procedures, and the creation of community-wide coalitions to divert people with mental illness from justice system involvement. For the last 30 years, NAMI has also been a critical partner in promoting programs like Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT), which goes beyond training to develop partnerships among the mental health, law enforcement and advocacy communities – all with the goal of transforming local responses to mental health crises.

We recognize that we must partner with law enforcement to vastly improve the interactions that still occur, while also recognizing that significant change is needed.  We cannot ignore the disproportionate effects of policing on communities of color, or the integral and intersecting role mental health plays. People with mental health conditions know all too well what it means to experience stigma, but not all of us know the doubling role race can play. We have work to do ahead.

How to Talk About It
NAMI has developed talking points about changing the system that puts law enforcement at the forefront of crisis response and the four areas of focus to address this (attached). As you engage with your members, partners and the media, we hope these will contribute to your efforts.

Additionally, the attached document includes Frequently Asked Questions to help you respond to questions you may be receiving about NAMI’s activities, including:

  • What is NAMI’s position on defunding the police?
  • Does NAMI still support CIT and training for law enforcement?
  • What is NAMI’s current role with CIT and developing training for law enforcement?
  • Does NAMI have a position on use of force and other police tactics?

What’s Happening at the Federal Level
Congress and the Administration have taken recent action towards addressing police reform. On June 25th, the House held a vote on The Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Drafted and led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the bill aims to combat police misconduct, excessive force and racial bias in policing. While the legislation is not specific to mental illness, NAMI supports a number of policies that are included that would improve police interactions for people with mental health conditions, including creating:

  • National accreditation standards for law enforcement;
  • Incentives for states to pass legislation on use of force, deadly force and chokeholds; and
  • Grant opportunities to include de-escalation training and training on mental illness.

The bill passed the House 236 to 181. While the bill passed with some bipartisan support, it is unlikely that it will be taken up by the Senate.

Early in June, Senate Republicans introduced The Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act. Similar to the House bill, the Senate bill is not specific to mental illness but includes several provisions that could impact police interactions for people with mental illness, including:

  • Requiring development of training curriculum on de-escalation, use of force and interactions with people with mental illness;
  • Encouraging states to pass legislation on use of force and chokeholds; and
  • Commissioning a study on law enforcement officer training, crisis intervention teams, co-responder programs, and pilot programs that are needed to improve law enforcement’s interactions with people with mental illness, substance use conditions or experiencing homelessness.

In late June, the bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to bring the bill to the Senate floor for debate.

While both bills are unlikely to be taken up by the other chamber, talks between Democrats and Republicans continue as both sides work to come to an agreement on next steps.

In addition, on June 16, President Trump signed an executive order to address concerns around policing standards and responsibilities. The order includes several provisions that would impact law enforcement interactions with people with mental illness, directing federal agencies to:

  • Increase the use of training opportunities for law enforcement to learn about responding to people with mental illness, substance use conditions and those experiencing homelessness;
  • Create incentives for law enforcement agencies to implement best practices in certifying and credentialing officers;
  • Develop a national database to report individual incidents of misconduct by federal, state and local law enforcement officers; and
  • Incentivize communities to establish co-responder models and engage social workers in responding to mental health crises.

NAMI will continue to monitor federal developments and share updates as well as opportunities to advocate for positive change on policies impacting people with mental illness and communities of color.

Click here to download the Police and Mental Health Talking Points and FAQ document.