New law addresses mental health, public safety

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- A new law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer this week closes what lawmakers called a “dangerous” loophole in addressing people with mental health issues.

House Bill 2105, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, boosts law enforcement's ability to determine whether someone needs a psychiatric evaluation.

Kavanagh said he reviewed Arizona law following the Tucson shooting tragedy in 2011 and found that officers could only take someone into custody for a mental health evaluation based on their personal observations.

With the amendment to the law, officers can now take into account witness or family statements when an individual is showing signs of a mental disorder, or appears to be a harm to themselves or others.

Jim Dunn, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Arizona, believes this change to the law will be a positive one.

“I think in this instance, it makes sense,” he said. “From what I hear, on my end, I get family members who are always concerned, 'Why do my loved ones have to hurt themselves or someone else to get attention or their needs met?' "

Dunn believes it will help officers better judge whether an individual requires professional help.

“A lot of times somebody who might be acting up or having a behavioral health challenge, once law enforcement shows up, it’s not too hard to contain yourself for 10, 15, 20, 30 minutes to get through that. Once they leave, it’s a different situation again,” Dunn said.

He also said the fact that lawmakers are discussing mental health is a step in the right direction.