Californians reporting a mental health crisis would be connected with trained counselors instead of police dispatch through a new phone hotline under proposed legislation introduced last week by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda).
Known also as the "Miles Hall Lifeline Act," Assembly Bill 988 would require 9-1-1 calls reporting a mental health crisis to be transferred to 9-8-8, the new national 988 Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline that was created last year by the federal government and which must be launched in all states by July 2022. Operators for both lines must also have the capacity for coordinating if emergency services are needed.
In a statement on Thursday, Bauer-Kahan said the bill "takes a monumental step forward in addressing these systemic inequities in our mental health system by decriminalizing our response to mental health, dismantling a major source of systemic injustice and addressing a major driver of homelessness."
According to the Tri-Valley legislator, calls to suicide prevention hotlines are "skyrocketing" during the pandemic -- as much as 8,000% at one Los Angeles-based call center. Bauer-Kahan stated that AB 988 "will ensure the state is prepared to answer the calls of all Californians in need."
"The current system relies on law enforcement and confinement and puts people suffering from mental illness through an expensive and traumatizing revolving-door as they shuttle between jails, emergency rooms, and the street," Bauer-Kahan said. "A comprehensive crisis response system can help prevent these tragedies, save money, and increase access to the right kind of care."
Bauer-Kahan introduced AB 988 in partnership with Contra Costa County, NAMI of Contra Costa County, the Kennedy Forum, Miles Hall Foundation and the Steinberg Institute, a mental health organization founded by bill supporter and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who called it "time to provide a consistent public health response to a public health crisis."
"Police officers are not mental health experts," Steinberg said. "My city and other cities in California are appropriately working to deploy social workers and trained crisis intervention experts for the thousands of calls that don't require a police officer. This change is good for the community and good for the police officers themselves."
Jointly authored by Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), and Philip Ting (D-San Francisco); and co-authored by more than a dozen other legislators, the bill is named for Miles Hall, a 23-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by officers while experiencing a mental health crisis in Walnut Creek two years ago.
"There are too many stories like that of Miles. We must make significant changes in how we respond to those suffering from a mental health crisis," Bauer-Kahan said.
Hall's mother, Taun, has publicly supported the bill, stating "nothing's going to bring Miles back" and that "he had a life and he had a future and that was all taken away in a minute."
"But it gives us comfort to know that a bill like this might help save other children and spare other families this anguish," Taun Hall said.