House Bill 1310 was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in May.
As a side note to my discussion here, I will be the first to say that we still have a problem in our society around the stigma associated with behavioral health issues. Behavioral health problems are not given the same priority, care or attention as medical issues.
But that’s a deeper topic for another time.
The bill, and now new law, has to do with use of force by police officers. The intentions of the bill were good, regulating “use-of-force” tactics by law enforcement. The bill goes further though, and it appears to prohibit law enforcement from intervening in situations where a crime is not being committed.
That may sound good on the surface, but here is why the new law is dangerous.
Take, for example, a person — could be you or a loved one — who is experiencing a behavioral health crisis. My agency, Cascade Community Healthcare, employs a Mobile Crisis Team (MCT). This team is called to help. By the way, Cascade’s MCT is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. The MCT is notified via the crisis line to help in this behavioral health crisis.
When the MCT is called to help, most often, law enforcement accompanies them. From there, if the MCT determines the person needs extra help, law enforcement is able to transport the person to a local emergency department to determine if they need a higher level of care. If the decision is made that they do indeed need a higher level of care, one of two things happens. Either a Mobile Crisis Team member or an emergency room doctor calls a mental health professional, called a designated crisis responder, to determine if the person meets the criteria for the Involuntary Treatment Act.
This new law now ties the hands of law enforcement to help or intervene, thereby putting our MCT and the person being helped, who is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, in a dangerous situation.
We have always worked very closely with law enforcement in Lewis County to ensure that people who are experiencing a behavioral health crisis are cared for in a respected and dignified manner.
I have a lot of respect and pride in the way law enforcement in Lewis County (the sheriff’s office and local police departments) handle serious behavioral health issues.
Cascade has established a working relationship with law enforcement that is not found in larger areas. We work together, collaboratively, for the safety of our citizenry.
I am very, very worried that this new law, well-intended as it may be, is setting a very dangerous precedent that could have fatal consequences.
Sheriff Rob Snaza and I have worked closely, and very hard, to make sure people who are experiencing behavioral health problems are not punished (putting them in jail) for having a behavioral health issue. But, rather, they are getting the help they need.
In fact, all law enforcement officials we work with recognize that people need help, not jail. I know it’s vogue to blame and look down on law enforcement in our times.
My experience has been that there may be a few bad apples, but the majority in law enforcement take the mandate to “serve and protect” seriously.
So how do we fix it? It will take a legislative fix, or the Washington Attorney General will have to give guidance as to how this new law will play out.
I can tell you for sure, if it was up to our local legislators to write the language of the bill— and it was not — they would have listened to law enforcement and would have talked with behavioral health professionals before something of this magnitude became law.
There are good intentions in HB 1310, but there could be very bad and possibly fatal consequences.
Richard Stride has been a practicing psychotherapist. He has worked in behavioral and forensic mental health for over 30 years as a counselor, clinical director and senior executive. He served eight years as a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He enjoys teaching, public speaking and prides himself on being a student of history. He is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at email@example.com.