ROCHESTER, NY (WBFO) – During her visit to Rochester Tuesday, State Attorney General Tish James said she intends to push for a law changing how communities respond to mental health calls. The measure, Daniel’s Law, was authored by Assemblymember Harry Bronson and state Sen. Samra Brouk of Rochester.
Brouk said the measure was inspired by a series of community conversations and discussions with Bronson about Daniel Prude’s death.
“We are completely transforming the system. We are making sure that the right person gets called when it comes to a mental health crisis,” said Brouk. “This will allow us to send someone who has spent years certifying and studying just how to handle someone who has been in a mental health or substance abuse crisis.”
The Prude case is one of those scenarios. His brother, Joe, called 911 with concerns about his mental health. Prude ran out of his brother’s house after he heard a train pass by in the distance. He had PCP in his system and was said to be acting irrationally. Prude was found nude and was restrained by three officers in the middle of the street. He suffocated, suffered brain damage and died a week later.
On Tuesday, James announced that a grand jury decided that none of the seven officers involved in the Prude case would face criminal charges. Bronson said that decision makes the argument for Daniel’s Law stronger.
“That grand jury report, I think, really underscores the need for drastic, transformative and systematic changes in law enforcement training, as well as mental health response in New York State as well as the City of Rochester,” said Bronson. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to address justice and equity in our law enforcement area. Daniel’s Law is a way to get there. It’s not the only piece of the puzzle but it is a significant piece.”
He also said it is important that 911 dispatchers get some of that training in order to decide if they should send a police officer or a mental health response unit.
The grand jury decision brought out hundreds of protesters to different parts of Rochester. Rochester Police Chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said the protesters handled themselves well, and there were no injuries and no arrests.
“When people are peacefully protesting and no laws are being violated, and nobody’s getting hurt, our response is minimal, there’s nothing for us to do,” Herriott-Sullivan said. “I enjoyed seeing that people were able to protest and get their points across.”
The chief said that the RPD would only use something like tear gas as a last resort, such as when public safety and lives are in jeopardy. There were complaints about tactics involving chemical agents and other aggressive actions taken by police during protests over racial justice issues in September.
Police officers did square off with protesters Tuesday night initially at a police station on Child Street and the Public Safety Building, but officers later went back inside the buildings leaving a minimal number of officers outside.
Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan said police officials have talked with local activists in recent weeks.
“We talked to many of the protesters offline, we had different meetings and heard their thoughts and concerns about what had happened before, and so we just wanted to make sure that we didn’t revisit that,” Herriott-Sullivan said, adding that people have a right to protest and should be able to do that safely.