Legal Academics, legal experts, and social justice advocates representing community legal centres, legal services and organisations, law faculties, and advocacy groups have collectively signed an open letter (PDF on Redfern Legal Centre website) calling on the NSW Government to fund trained mental health experts as first responders to mental health crises.
Among the 85-plus signatories are prominent figures and organisations such as Camilla Pandolfini, CEO of Redfern Legal Centre; Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre; George Newhouse, CEO of the National Justice Project; Professor Emerita Eileen Baldry AO UNSW, Robert Tickner, Chair of the Justice Reform Initiative, Josh Pallas President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties and Tim Leach, CEO, Community Legal Centres Australia.
The signatories urge the government to invest in multidisciplinary responses to critical incidents involving mental health crises that involve teams trained in crisis intervention, counselling and de-escalation techniques who have the skills and expertise to avoid people in crisis suffering serious injury or death. The letter calls on the NSW government to urgently initiate a Parliamentary Inquiry into the use of force by NSW police.
The tragic death of Krista Kach, who died after police tasered her and subjected her to bean bag rounds and a stun gun during a welfare check at her home, is the most recent of four fatal encounters involving NSW Police in the last four months.
Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC), says”
‘When people are experiencing mental health crises, the community needs trained mental health professionals to intervene and de-escalate the situation. We can’t expect police to be equipped for this role and there are too many examples – over decades – of tragic outcomes that make clear the need for a different approach.’
‘Many of the clients we work with have experienced intimidating and hostile interactions with police. Having police arrive during a time of crisis escalates anxiety for those people and puts them at further risk. A health emergency requires a health response, not a policing one.’
Camilla Pandolfini, CEO at Redfern Legal Centre says:
‘Mental health is a health issue that requires health solutions. We need a better first responder system that protects all of our community, including those experiencing a mental health response.’
‘We need a parliamentary inquiry into the use of force by NSW police.’
George Newhouse, CEO of the National Justice Project, says:
‘This open letter reflects the acute concern held by the community about the unnecessary use of force against vulnerable people in crisis situations. We are at a critical moment, and the community is demanding action to rein in NSW Police’s use of brute force.’
‘Our clients have lost loved ones to police violence when all the victim needed was care and compassion, not bullets, not tasers, not bean bags.’
‘Even NSW Police recognise that they are not equipped to deal with people experiencing mental health crises. The NSW Government must take urgent action to resource alternative models that put mental health and welfare first, not the bludgeon.’
Josh Pallas, President NSW Council for Civil Liberties says:
‘A health response to crises arising from mental ill health is paramount. Not a violent police response. Police use of force is out of control.’
‘We support an urgent inquiry so that the setting can be recalibrated to avoid further lethal police interactions.’