Joe Farrow had it right Wednesday morning when he said, “Everybody in this room knows we have an issue to work on. A big issue.”
The CHP commissioner uttered those words before kicking off a five-hour meeting to talk about mental-health training for police. More then 100 experts and advocates, lawmakers and legislative staff, public health officials, family members and police officers from around the state gathered at the patrol’s North Sacramento headquarters.
It’s not a coincidence that Farrow wants CHP to take the lead. Last July, a motorist shot video of CHP Officer Daniel Andrew straddling 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock on the ground and repeatedly striking her. The pictures of a young white officer beating a mentally confused African American grandmother grabbed national attention.
Farrow shuttled back and forth from Sacramento to Southern California to make amends with local politicians and civil-rights activists. He didn’t hide his embarrassment. He apologized. He promised to investigate. He vowed to change how his officers deal with the mentally ill.
The CHP settled with Pinnock for $1.5 million and Andrew’s resignation. He could still face criminal charges.
“Although that was sign of our need to change,” Farrow said, “it’s not really the only reason we’re here.”
Like elementary schools that now serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, Farrow recognizes law enforcement’s role is evolving. A recent report by Disabilities Rights California, for example, found that 80 agencies surveyed said their officers spend more time on mental health crisis calls than any other kind.
Standard police training to subdue criminals can be counterproductive with someone who is mentally ill, researchers found – “moving too quickly or using the wrong approach may inadvertently escalate the situation,” for example.
In keeping with state police training standards, CHP cadets undergo eight hours of instruction on handling individuals with disabilities plus two hours of scenario training. It also requires officers in the field to take another eight hours of crisis intervention training once they’re in the field.
Farrow doesn’t think that’s nearly enough, but Wednesday’s meeting revealed why instituting change isn’t as simple as you might think. Some of the thorny questions raised:
How much do officers need to know? Who decides? How to pay for training? Will skeptical cops buy in? Is available training material sufficient? Do officers in Lassen County need the same training as Los Angeles officers? Does the Legislature need to get involved?
Don’t be surprised if it does. Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, told the crowd he thinks mental health training is as important for cops and public safety “as a pair of handcuffs.”
Plenty of questions remain. Farrow has tied his legacy to finding answers.
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to sacbee.com/stateworker.