Biden proposes sending ‘a psychologist or psychiatrist’ with police officers on 911 calls

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Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has signed on to the controversial idea of dispatching psychiatrists with police officers for certain types of calls.

During a town hall-style event hosted by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt on Monday, Biden said he would back such a measure as a means of attempting to de-escalate situations involving persons and suspects who seem to be suffering from mental problems.

“I’m gonna do what I’ve done in the past. I’m gonna bring all these interests together,” Biden said. “Peaceful protesters, police chiefs, police officers, the police unions, as well as civil rights groups in the White House and sit down and decide, what are the things that need to be done to improve and help police officers.

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“I’m the only one who’s talked about increasing police budgets,” Biden then claimed, which is not entirely accurate; in a June op-ed in USA Today, the former vice president premised giving departments “the resources they need” to implement reforms, with additional federal money dependent on adopting those reforms.

“When your husband goes on a call that in fact is a 911 call, it’s better if he or she has with them a psychologist or psychiatrist with them, someone who knows how to deal with someone who is not all there,” Biden continued.

“I also proposing [sic] that we spend a significant more money [sic] on community policing,” he said, adding that he would also establish a “national commission” to work with him on the issue of policing.

During his first debate with President Donald Trump, Biden was asked by Fox News host and event moderator Chris Wallace, “You talked about ‘re-imagining policing’. What does re-imagining policing mean, and do you support the Black Lives Matter call for community control of policing?”

“What I support is the police having the opportunity to deal with the problems they face. They need more assistance. They need, when they show up for a 911 call, to have someone with them as a psychologist or psychiatrist, to keep them from having to use force and be able to talk people down,” Biden responded.

“We have to have community policing like we had before, where the officers get to know the people in the communities. That’s when crime went down. It didn’t go up; it went down,” the former VP added.

But not all police officers and law enforcement experts agree.

“While the concept of increasing community policing is definitely a good thing to champion, this notion of sending in the psychologist/psychiatrist squad on emergency calls poses not only potential calamities – but also seems impractical,” writes Gregory Hoyt at Law Enforcement Today.

“One of the first things to take into account is the general safety of these sorts of professionals during emergency calls. If the likes of psychologists and psychiatrists find themselves getting dispatched on emergency calls, then they’re now one giant liability due to inserting themselves into possibly lethal scenarios involving dangerous individuals,” he added.

The concept of mobile mental health teams that are designed to respond to behavioral crises isn’t new, but some experts warn that they cannot — and should not — operate independently of police.

“It’s a small fraction of the overall calls we do, but at times, there’s somebody who maybe just doesn’t really understand who we are or is in some kind of psychotic episode,” said Benjamin Brubaker, who assists in running one of the country’s oldest mobile crisis teams in Oregon, in an interview with STAT.

“We rely on law enforcement to sometimes back us up in those situations,” he added.

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Jon Dougherty

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