By Bob Montgomery
Law enforcement in South Carolina would get more training in dealing with people having a mental health or substance abuse crisis under a bill that the state General Assembly could take up next year.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat who has made two runs for governor, pre-filed a bill on the issue this week. The proposed legislation mirrors a measure he introduced late in the Legislature’s last session that died in committee.
“We’ve got a real crisis in many of our hospitals and detention facilities where people who suffer mental health problems are dumped,” Sheheen told the Herald-Journal on Thursday.
The proposed legislation would require the S.C. Law Enforcement Training Council to create a crisis intervention training center and for every county to have at least one crisis intervention team.
The state center would oversee training of police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
“The goal is to be proactive rather than reactive,” Sheheen said. “Law enforcement intends well, but they don’t have the equipment or training to handle a situation when it’s not a criminal problem, but a mental problem. It’s not their fault.”
Mental health advocate Paton Blough of Greenville said he met several times with Sheheen as the bill was put together.
“This solves some of the policing issues … and gives people help and hope,” said Blough, a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It’s about human kindness. It’s giving officers more tools — not taking away Tasers or guns — to possibly de-escalate a situation and help the person in crisis avoid injury and maybe themselves an injury.”
Blough said the bill, if passed, would help fulfill a goal of the “Stepping Up” resolution that Spartanburg County Council approved in July.