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Conservation officers may be authorized to deal with mental health emergencies under the bill

Michigan lawmakers are working on what they call a “common sense” solution to a problem that has left preservatives’ hands tied for years.

Senate Bill 1172 would give conservation officers the same power as state police to place a person in need of a mental health evaluation in protective custody.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who said in testimony at a Senate Health and Human Services Policy Committee meeting this month that the change had been requested by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“People go to state parks or public lands sometimes, unfortunately, far too often to harm themselves,” Chang said. “Conservation officers currently have to call a law enforcement agency to take a subject into custody or for an assessment. However, these officers may not have witnessed the same behavior as conservation officers and therefore may not feel comfortable making this decision.

Currently, a “peace officer” under the Mental Health Code is defined as an officer of the Michigan State Police or local law enforcement agency.

The bill would change that definition to include officers working for a law enforcement agency licensed under the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, such as the Department of Natural Resources.

MNR Chief Dave Shaw and Sergeant Damon Owens provided their own testimony at the Nov. 11 committee hearing.

DNR officers patrol all 83 counties in Michigan, Shaw said, and are often the only law enforcement available during odd hours and in certain areas of the state.

He said officers primarily encounter people in need of mental health services in areas with larger populations, such as southeast Michigan.

Owens, who oversees and patrols Belle Isle in Detroit, knows first-hand mental health crises at state parks are sadly commonplace. In the 10 days between the start of the month and the committee meeting, Owens said he saw three cases of people in need of mental health services.

He said he’s seen drug overdoses and suicides, people even jumping off the Belle Isle Bridge into the Detroit River, which can be deadly.

“Belle Isle is a beautiful park in the city of Detroit,” Owens said. “Unfortunately, because of its beauty and tranquility, we encounter a lot of mental health issues.”

Preventive detention by a peace officer is temporary and, although not the same as an arrest, it may be accomplished with or without the individual’s consent if necessary for the safety and well-being of the individual. be of the individual or the public.

Owens said that through verbal coercion, he and other officers are sometimes able to convince people to voluntarily receive help by going into protective custody. When people don’t want to volunteer, he explained, they can become restless, further endangering the safety of others.

Should this bill be enacted, Owens said there would be no doubt that the individual needed to get help.

That proposed authority would also extend to campus police and travel police, said Taylor Ridderbusch, legislative liaison for the DNR.

“They don’t have that authority and just want the ability to help people, and by doing that, it seems like a simple solution,” Ridderbusch said,

The committee sent the bill to the Senate with the recommendation that it be adopted. The bill is expected to pass both the Senate and House and be signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

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