An event at Whitney Pond Park in Manhasset honors Daniel...

An event at Whitney Pond Park in Manhasset honors Daniel Prude and others suffering mental health issues who were killed during interactions with police officers. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Advocates in Manhasset on Sunday rallied for state legislation requiring experts on handling people in a mental or substance abuse crisis respond to certain 911 calls before police officers.

The bill, known as “Daniel’s Law,” is sponsored by a pair of Rochester Democrats, State Sen. Samra Brouk and Assemb. Harry Bronson. They took up the bill after Daniel Prude, 41, in March 2020 and experiencing a mental health crisis, died in police custody in Rochester.

Rebecca Bonanno, who helped organize Sunday’s event at Whitney Pond Park — timed to coincide with what would have been Prude’s 45th birthday — said the legislation would “create a public health response to the types of crisis that put vulnerable people at risk of force, involuntary hospitalization and even death.”

The rally was organized by LI United to Transform Policing and Community Safety, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock.

Brouk, at a news conference announcing the bill earlier this year, said: “Every day people living with mental illness are stigmatized and abused by a system that is designed to criminalize their weakest moments. It’s clear that there’s a lack of understanding and support when it comes to responding to mental health crises.”

Police in Nassau County did not answer a list of questions sent by Newsday last week about how they respond to mental health emergencies.

The Suffolk County Police Department’s public information office said the department has introduced several necessary reforms in recent years.

The Suffolk Police Communication Section launched a 911 diversion pilot program as part of its police reform plan in 2021 that has since been implemented departmentwide.

As part of the program, operators evaluate if a caller experiencing a behavioral health crisis would be better served by a mental health professional using telehealth.

If a person is determined to be violent, or if a psychiatric transport is necessary, then police respond, according to information provided by the department.

The Suffolk Police Department said it also provides incoming officers with more mental health training hours than required by state law. More than 420 officers have completed crisis intervention training since 2019, according to the police.

Organizers at the rally Sunday also held an afternoon candlelight vigil in honor of 55 people suffering a mental illness who have been killed by police in New York. The list was compiled from a Washington Post database that has tracked fatal police shootings since 2015.

“Mental health and substance use disorders are medical issues, not criminal justice issues,” said Susan Gottehrer, director of the Nassau County New York Civil Liberties Union. “We need to start talking about this differently.”

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