Nebraska bill proposes changes to mental health emergency protective custody

The bill would allow mental health professionals to make decisions on EPC along with police.
Nebraska legislators discuss mental health
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 10:53 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Right now, under Nebraska law, if someone is facing a mental health crisis and is considered a danger to themselves or to others, the only people who can place them in emergency protective custody are police officers.

“It is a major concern that having a police officer arrive at an already stressful situation, handcuff and place the individual in a secure vehicle, and then transport them to a medical facility or jail could create an even more traumatic situation for that person,” says Lance Braun, the legislative aid for State Sen. Raymond Aguilar of Grand Island.

Aguilar introduced LB668, which would change current laws to allow mental health professionals to make decisions about emergency protective custody, known as EPC.

“Law enforcement officers are not mental health professionals, yet they’re put in a position to act as one, this is counter-intuitive and at times they’re a necessity, but there are other alternatives,” says Lindsay Kroll, the mental health coordinator for the Omaha Police Department.

OPD and officials with the city worked with Aguilar to help craft the bill.

“As a mental health professional, we want to provide the most effective, accessible, low or no barrier support or treatment in the least restrictive settings to those we serve, and our ability to do that effectively is impacted by the limitation of not being recognized a mental health professional in state statute,” Kroll adds. “We must create alternative options aside from law enforcement for individuals to receive required interventions for their safety, to determine the necessity of involuntary care to treat their level of mental health needs.”

Proponents argue that giving mental health professionals the ability to place someone in EPC will allow for more accurate care for those facing crisis.

They also say it will relieve pressure on police officers.

“Law enforcement does not want to deal with non-criminal issues, and by expanding the certification, we can get care quicker before things get worse,” Kroll said.

The hope is also that the bill will help destigmatize and lessen the trauma that may come along with a mental health crisis for some.

“As policymakers, we should attempt to avoid criminalization of this situation and allow for a smart solution in certain mental health scenarios,” Braun says.

The bill is still being discussed by the judiciary committee.