Clinton's Proposal on Law Enforcement and the Mentally Ill

Clinton announced her plan to support Americans with mental illnesses today.

August 29, 2016, 5:51 PM
PHOTO: A police officer stands before the remains of a bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 15, 2016.
A police officer stands before the remains of a bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Aug. 15, 2016.
Cengiz Yar/AFP/Getty Images

— -- Hillary Clinton's plan to address Americans coping with mental illness claims that our criminal justice system "is increasingly becoming the 'front line' of engagement."

The comprehensive plan released today on her site seeks to "improve criminal justice outcomes by training law enforcement officers in crisis intervention."

Ron Honberg, a Senior Policy Advisor, Advocacy & Public Policy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a grassroots organization focused on building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness, categorized Clinton's plan as a "step in the right direction," and agreed with the candidate's assessment that there is a growing burden placed on law enforcement in tackling mental health issues.

"Typically, we're asking the police to do a job that they're not trained to do," he said, noting that police were compensating for what he categorized as a weaknesses in our social safety net in dealing with mentally ill people.

Honberg told ABC News that while increased training will help, it represents only a partial solution, and said that "early intervention" was also necessary to identify people suffering with mental illnesses before they come in contact with law enforcement.

Clinton's overall plan, he noted, deals with this issue to a degree as well. As a second peg to address police interactions with the mentally ill, the plan calls to "prioritize treatment over incarceration for low-level, non-violent offenders" and "strengthen mental health services for incarcerated individuals."

"As many as 1 in every 10 police encounters may be with individuals with some type of mental health problem," the agenda on mental health states.

Honberg noted that statistics on just how many police shooting involve mental health issues are not well-documented. The NAMI site estimates one in five police shootings may involve a victim who is mentally ill.

But, recent interactions between police and mentally ill people that ended in tragedy have become a frequent occurrence in the news, calling attention to the issue.

Sylville Smith, the 23-year-old man whose shooting death helped trigger the unrest that occurred in Milwaukee earlier this month was said to have suffered from mental illness by members of his family. Dontre Hamilton, who was killed by Milwaukee police in 2014, also suffered from mental illness.

A video, as reported last week by ABC News, showed the last moments in the life of Vachel Howard, a 56-year-old black man who may have suffered from schizophrenia, and died while in the custody of the Los Angeles Police Department after appearing to receive a choke hold.

In June, the police shooting death of Willie D. James was reported by ABC News. The James' family said that he suffered from schizophrenia.

"This is not a partisan issue," Honberg said, adding that there is a "long way to go from proposal to treatment," referring to the arduous task of enacting new laws surrounding the criminal justice system's treatment of the mentally ill.

He credited Trump with addressing the issue of mental health, as well, but said his plan was "lacking in details right now."

Trump mentions mental health issues on his website under the category of Second Amendment Rights, and focuses the problem around incidents of mass shootings, which have haunted the country in recent years.

"Let’s be clear about this. Our mental health system is broken. It needs to be fixed," Trump declares on the subject. "Too many politicians have ignored this problem for too long."

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