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Landmark Legislation Will Transform California’s Response to Mental Health Crises

Assembly Bill 988 will establish an alternative to 911 for those experiencing mental health emergencies

For immediate release:

Legislation introduced today will transform the way California responds to mental health emergencies to ensure those in crisis receive the urgent care they need. The system uses an easy-to-remember three-digit phone number – 988 – as an alternative to 911 so individuals and their families know and can trust that help is only one call away.

Assembly Bill 988 will implement the new nationwide 988 Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Crisis Hotline created last year by the Federal Communications Commission and Congress. The 988 hotline, which all states must implement by July 2022, replaces an underutilized, hard-to-remember 10-digit number.

The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) in partnership with The Steinberg Institute, The Kennedy Forum, Contra Costa County, NAMI of Contra Costa County, and the Miles Hall Foundation, the organizations sponsoring the legislation.

Call centers will connect people calling or texting 988 with trained counselors and dispatch mobile crisis support teams – staffed by mental health professionals and trained peers instead of police officers – to help a person in crisis. The bill mandates that calls to 911 reporting a mental health crisis be transferred to 988 and that operators for both lines have the capacity to coordinate if medical, fire or law enforcement responders are needed.

With calls to existing suicide prevention call centers skyrocketing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – including by 8,000 percent at one Los Angeles-based call center – AB 988 will ensure the state is prepared to answer the calls of all Californians in need.

The Miles Hall Lifeline Act is named for Miles Hall, a 23-year-old African American man who was shot and killed by officers in 2019 while in the midst of a mental health crisis. His mother, Taun Hall, had spoken to police officers about her son numerous times over several years and had called the local police department the day before the shooting to warn that Miles was having an unstable period.

“The current system relies on law enforcement and confinement and puts people suffering from mental illness through an expensive and traumatizing revolving-door as they shuttle between jails, emergency rooms, and the street,” said Assemblymember Bauer-Kahan. “A comprehensive crisis response system can help prevent these tragedies, save money, and increase access to the right kind of care. There are too many stories like that of Miles. We must make significant changes in how we respond to those suffering from a mental health crisis.”

AB 988 takes a monumental step forward in addressing these systemic inequities in our mental health system by decriminalizing our response to mental health, dismantling a major source of systemic injustice and addressing a major driver of homelessness. It is jointly authored by Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park), David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), and Philip Ting (D-San Francisco); and co-authored by more than a dozen other legislators.

“Police officers are not mental health experts. My city and other cities in California are appropriately working to deploy social workers and trained crisis intervention experts for the thousands of calls that don’t require a police officer. This change is good for the community and good for the police officers themselves,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, founder of the Steinberg Institute. “It’s time to provide a consistent public health response to a public health crisis.”

"Our nation's response to mental health emergencies must no longer be led by police, but rather by mental health professionals who can stabilize individuals and connect them to appropriate treatment,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, founder of the Kennedy Forum. “AB 988 will facilitate development of a robust mental health crisis response system in California—one that puts people on the road to recovery, instead of behind bars.”

Taun Hall, Miles’ mother, supports the bill. “Nothing's going to bring Miles back,” she said. “He had a life and he had a future and that was all taken away in a minute. But it gives us comfort to know that a bill like this might help save other children and spare other families this anguish.”