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Daniel’s Law task force looks at limited policing for mental health calls

Body camera footage in 2020 showed the encounter between police and Daniel Prude.
Rochester Police
Body camera footage in 2020 showed the encounter between police and Daniel Prude.

In 2020, Rochester Police responded to a mental hygiene call placed by Daniel Prude’s brother.

Prude, who had numerous prior arrests, was visiting family from Chicago. Body camera footage showed a stripped 41-year-old Black man outside on a cold, early morning in March. When approached by police, Prude appeared calm.

Then, the video shows the arrest became violent after police instructed Prude to get on the ground, placed a spit hood over his head and officers physically restrained him. An autopsy showed Prude died from suffocation.

More than three years later, in November, a state task force was formed to carry out Daniel’s Law, which was established in last year’s budget, by hosting a series of community meetings to reimagine policing and develop a new crisis response system.

"When you have a 911 call, the first to arrive on scene, before an ambulance, is law enforcement,” said Darcie Miller, a member of the task force and a representative of the New York Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors. “When you look at that, that is our challenge when we think about redesigning this system."

Miller spoke at the first meeting of 2024 held on Long Island on Thursday, Jan. 11.

Representatives of first responders, nonprofits and community health providers shared ideas about community engagement and building relationships before crises occur.

This includes exploring ways to increase awareness of 988 and make it more accessible, such as through social media campaigns. Since the July 2022 launch, 988 has received and routed about 7.6 million calls, texts and chats.

“As we look at other crisis response systems, things like getting the word out will always be important,” said Dr. Ann Sullivan, commissioner for the state Office of Mental Health, who chairs the new task force. “Things like making sure that the individuals who are on the crisis line are well-trained will also always be important.”

In addition, when there are emergencies, the task force considered looking into limiting police involvement as much as possible in crisis response and focusing on mental health professionals and peer support specialists responding instead.

For several years, Suffolk County has been doing 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team training for officers to help when the police department is responding. In a non-emergency, callers are asked to agree to a telehealth session and are immediately transferred to a local crisis stabilization center.

“We often separate crisis response sometimes from that kind of community engagement,” Sullivan said. “And it would be interesting, as we develop this, that they be kind of linked — in a way that when we're going out to communities to work on mental health to help do prevention. [Nonprofits] are often separate, you know, a little bit siloed from the crisis response.”

The task force acknowledged challenges around response times — for a suburban community, like Long Island, or a rural community in Western New York — where proper training for first responders to identify and handle mental health crises and having teams spread out geographically to improve access might be more feasible and affordable.

To date, no charges have been brought against the officers involved in Prude's arrest after the attorney general's office found they had followed their training.

The task force is expected to make legislative recommendations by the end of 2025. Registration is now open for its second in-person listening session at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18, which will also be streamed live.

The next regular task force meeting is set for Wednesday, Jan. 26.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.