U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner (center) promotes the Invest to Protect Act outside the Warwick Police Department on Monday, May 15. He is flanked by Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi and Police Chief Bradford Connor. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)
WARWICK — Officials marked the start of National Police Week Monday by calling attention to a bill introduced in U.S. Congress that would provide funding for police officers to get additional training to deal with calls related to mental health crises.
“We have to make sure that police departments here in Rhode Island and all across the country get the funding to do their job,” U.S. Rep. Seth Magaziner said at a press conference outside Warwick police headquarters.
Magaziner is one of 50 House co-sponsors of the Invest to Protect Act, which allocates $50 million per year toward de-escalation and domestic violence response training for police departments consisting of up to 200 officers.
In Warwick, Police Chief Bradford Connor said he has a team of 30 officers who are specially trained for these situations. Ideally, he said this would apply to each of his nearly 160 officers.
“If we can add training in those areas — it’s going to make the officers safer and make the public safer,” Connor said.
The federal bill would also provide police departments with funding toward bonuses to retain officers — a problem Connor said Warwick, much like other police departments, have faced in recent years.
“We are currently in a recruitment crisis,” he said. “We are all competing for the same small number of good candidates and at times losing candidates to lateral transfers — a grant like this is only going to help us get better.”
Should the federal bills become law, local departments would apply for grants through the U.S. Department of Justice. Grants would fund officers’ tuition for graduate studies in mental health, public health, and social work up to $10,000.
Funding would be given over a five-year period.
“I view that as a floor, not a ceiling,” Magaziner said in an interview after the press conference. “Hopefully we will be able to get more than that through the budget process in the coming years.”
Last year, a similar bill passed the House with 360 votes, including 153 Republicans. The Senate also passed its own version of the legislation, but the final agreed upon bill was not voted on.
Magaziner said he is optimistic 2023 is the year this gets the support to become law.
“This is something that we all ought to get behind,” the freshman Congressman said. “That is why I look forward to working with my colleagues to get this bill to get to President Biden’s desk.”
Training could help with unhoused populations
Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi said expanding training to all officers will be especially helpful with assisting the 55 unhoused Rhode Islanders who were moved from the Cranston Street Armory in Providence to the Motel 6 in Warwick.
“We’re just trying at this point to predict what resources may be needed there,” he said. “Once we get going — it’s possible we may need more patrolmen on a shift.”
The state is also opening shelter space in Woonsocket, North Smithfield, and Providence, the Rhode Island Department of Housing announced Monday.
Picozzi added that he has yet to get an estimate from the state’s Department of Housing on how much the City of Warwick will be reimbursed for sheltering these additional unhoused families, as discussions are still ongoing with state officials.
Though Picozzi previously expressed some concern that sheltering additional unhoused people could stretch police resources even further than they are, Connor said his officers are ready.
“We are not overwhelmed at this point,” Connor said.
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