Conservation officers often encounter individuals experiencing BH crises; in-progress Michigan bill would allow them to intervene

Michigan conservation officers could soon be authorized to transport behavioral health patients to a proper care setting.

 

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Senate Bill 1172, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Chang (D – Detroit), would modify the state’s definition of “peace officer” to include an officer of a law enforcement agency who is licensed under the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. 

This would mean that state conservation officers—officers who bear responsibility for the state’s lands and parks—would be able to take an individual into protective custody or for a mental health evaluation directly. Currently, conservation officers are required to contact another form of law enforcement if they encounter someone experiencing a behavioral health crisis. 

In her testimony at a Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee meeting last week, Chang said the bill would provide a common sense solution to an issue that conservation officers have faced for years.

“Unfortunately, people go to state parks or public lands far too often to harm themselves,” she said. “Conservation officers currently have to call in another law enforcement agency to take a subject into protective custody or for an evaluation. However, these officers may not have witnessed this same behavior that the conservation officers did, therefore may not feel comfortable making that decision.”

The bill has been referred to the Senate Floor.

A conservation officer who spoke in support of the bill emphasized the importance of his profession in ensuring the safety of Michiganders dealing with a behavioral health crisis.

“Our officers are a very important part of the law enforcement community, and quite often, they are the only law enforcement agency that is working on certain shifts at certain times throughout the year,” they said. “Mental health crises are not isolated, it is widespread throughout the state. Our officers run into it more often where we have larger population bases like southeast Michigan.”

They added that conservation officers run into safety issues when they can’t take an individual with a mental health crises into protective custody, as well as liability issues when they do not have the authority to transport them.

Another conservation officer who spoke in support of the bill highlighted how common these situations are, and said the fact that conservation officers aren’t able to transport behavioral health patients themselves leads to delays in patient care.

“Oftentimes, I would have to radio Michigan State Police to call for a trooper to come and evaluate and petition this individual,” they said. “Unfortunately, in southeast Michigan, it may take over half an hour for someone to come over for a non-emergency issue. That puts me in a situation where we have to sit with this individual, detain them, and if they want to go, they can go.”

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association supports the bill for its potential to shorten patient wait times for receiving critical behavioral health care.