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At Tulsa Police Memorial, Inhofe Announces Legislation To Fund Officers' Mental Health Training

Chris Polansky
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), at lectern, leads a group of law enforcement officers in prayer at a ceremony recognizing National Police Week, at the Tulsa Fallen Officers' Memorial at the Tulsa Police Academy on May 14, 2021.

Oklahoma's senior U.S. Senator, Jim Inhofe, visited the Tulsa Fallen Officers' Memorial at the Tulsa Police Academy Friday to recognize National Police Week and announce legislation that would provide federal funding to help train law enforcement officers in dealing with individuals experiencing mental illness.

"There's a lot of opposition to law enforcement," Inhofe said. "It's just unbelievable that there is. We thought we would get out where people could see us and really understand what this is all about."

Inhofe said he was cosponsoring the Law Enforcement Training For Mental Health Crisis Response Act of 2021 with a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues, including Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). 

"One out of four people killed in a police response suffer from mental illness," Inhofe said, flanked by law enforcement leaders and rank-and-file officers. "These people have to, these guys that are standing behind me, they have to deal with this. They are not predictable. This is dangerous."

TPD Capt. Luke Sherman, who also serves as the chair of the National Tactical Officers Association, said police often aren't prepared or knowledgable in how to deal with people with mental health issues.

"Far too often, the men and women of law enforcement in our nation's areas lack the necessary training to effectively and safely resolve mental health critical incidents that routinely face us," Sherman said. "This legislation will help to ensure that our nation's law enforcement officers will have access to the critical training that, quite simply, saves lives."

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado said law enforcement needs enhanced training, but also said they should not be expected to alone solve behavioral health issues.

"Training is always the centerpiece of risk mitigation, so, Sen. Inhofe, thank you for providing us an opportunity to enhance that training," Regalado said. 

"The one thing that I would remind everybody is that addressing mental illness should not be solely placed in the hands of law enforcement. We need commitment not only from the national level, local and state level, but we need commitment between the public and private sectors, and for our communities to hold our elected officials accountable when we start talking about addressing mental illness," Regalado said.

The announcement of Inhofe's proposed legislation comes less than a week after a police officer in Oklahoma City shot and killed Daniel Hobbs, who told the officer he suffered from schizophrenia.

Inhofe suggested he kept this legislation separate from other criminal justice reform bills in Congress, like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, because he thought it would have a greater chance of passage as a standalone bill.

"Because I didn't want to," Inhofe said, responding to a question about why he didn't join the proposal onto an existing bill. "One thing you want to do, when you've been around the Senate for a while, you don't want to link up with somebody who's going to lose."

Inhofe said the U.S. Capitol Police are "heroes" who "did a great job" defending the Capitol Building during the January 6th insurrection, but he criticized them for continuing to buttress their security presence with National Guard troops.

"They have the resources to do the job without it," Inhofe said, acknowledging the agency has a "dangerous job" because "wild people" come to Washington from "around the world." 

Asked about former President Trump's continued lying about winning last year's presidential election even after such rhetoric inspired a violent attack on the Capitol, Inhofe said it was "not helpful."

"It's time to move forward," Inhofe said. "And when I say that, I'm saying also that's what Trump says. Because I still talk to him almost on a daily basis. But we have so many in the media who just hate Trump that they're going to say anything that will discolor what his feelings are."

Told that Trump put out at least one statement just this week falsely claiming the election was "stolen," Inhofe said he had not seen that.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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