Law enforcement’s role in mental health remains a top priority on Lynchburg’s legislative agenda

The Lynchburg City Council held the first discussion of its draft 2023 Legislative Agenda on Tuesday, reviewing the city’s priorities for the upcoming year’s Virginia General Assembly session.

Each year, city staff and council work together on a document that outlines the most important legislative issues for the locality, then hold a legislative dinner with the local state delegation, relaying to them any items to bring to the table. General Assembly.

The Virginia General Assembly opens its 2023 legislative session on Wednesday, January 11.

In its 2022 legislative agenda, the city has prioritized the role of the police department in mental health, hoping to pass legislation to overhaul Emergency Custody Order (ECO) legislation and the state’s Temporary Detention Order (TDO).

A year later, the same issue tops the draft 2023 legislative agenda, as the police service still struggles with the toll ECOs and TDOs are taking on service resources.

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With these orders in place, the police are required to stay with people who need mental health care for long periods of time.

“The purpose of this legislation is basically to force the state to put in place some type of structure that would allow someone other than a sworn police officer to sit with this patient while he is under an ECO,” Police Chief Ryan Zuidema said at a news conference. Tuesday’s work session, “as well as sitting down with this patient to transport him to, you know, various locations across the state for mental health treatment.”

The police chief added that since 2016, the department has “very conservatively spent more than $2 million of our taxpayers’ money to fund the salaries of officers to sit with mental health patients. “.

Zuidema said the Commonwealth system needed a ‘massive overhaul’, in his view, and said: ‘We’re not just talking about changing slightly. We’re talking about investing and having the infrastructure in place to do what needs to be done.

“Our mental health system is broken, and when I say broken, I mean tragically broken,” the police chief later added.

Zuidema said in the past, State Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, introduced bills that increased locality funding, and while Zuidema said that was a good thing, he said “Quite honestly, this funding is a band-aid for arterial bleeding.

Ward III Councilor Jeff Helgeson weighed in on the issue, saying the previous government’s solutions are the root of today’s problems.

“If you bring someone to the Blue Ridge Jail Authority, you don’t sit with them all day. You transfer them. So the thing must be the same. I think what we’ve done is make things way too bureaucratic,” he said.

Helgeson later said, “It shouldn’t just be a redesign with just another huge price tag of a solution; just come back to a little common sense.

The city has also prioritized two other issues in its proposed legislative agenda — 911 reclassification and crashing.

According to Benda, the reclassification of 911 would allow public safety communications specialists to be classified as safety first responders under Virginia’s hazardous service retirement benefits.

With 14 positions currently vacant at the emergency operations center, Benda said, this reclassification would make it easier to recruit and retain qualified public safety communicators for various response points across the city.

“It’s hard work,” Benda said. “Three different shifts, including one at midnight. You get phone calls from people in distress and so this can be one of those difficult positions or jobs. So we try to think of all the ways to make it as attractive as possible.

Crush, the other key agenda priority, is the act of making a prank communication to 911, or even a private citizen who then communicates the false information to 911, regarding a threat to life. human with the intention of attracting law enforcement response. , which could potentially involve a SWAT team – hence the name.

Zuidema said an example of this was a recent threat at EC Glass High School that ended up being a hoax.

The chief said law enforcement agencies across the Commonwealth are grappling with this issue and hope to ‘strengthen this law a little bit more and give some more options’ for law enforcement to prosecute in the event of a crash attempt.

The Legislative Agenda calls for several additional items and will be further discussed at the Council’s Legislative Dinner. Items may be changed on the list at the discretion of the board.

Ward IV Councilor Chris Faraldi advocated for the inclusion of more funding for local Commonwealth prosecutors’ offices in the state, saying “it is a need that we have been made aware of at a very specific point. “, as well as providing resources that will prevent LPD officers from having to try some misdemeanor cases on their own.

Recently, Lynchburg Commonwealth Attorney Bethany Harrison announced that due to staffing constraints and a heavy workload, her office would no longer be involved in prosecuting certain stand-alone torts, leaving the prosecution to the LPD officers.

Faraldi also hopes to be able to add language asking for an increase in teacher salaries without the need for local correspondence.

Lynchburg residents also have the opportunity to have their voices heard in the legislative agenda, as it is open for public comment on the city’s website at lynchburgva.gov.

Comments should be sent no later than 5 p.m. Friday, November 23 to Metchi Braun at [email protected] or by calling (434) 455-3984.

The Board will hold a final vote on the agenda at its regular meeting on December 13.