The Vera Institute of Justice Issues Statement on New Guidance from the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services

New guidance is an important step in prioritizing alternatives to police responses

Contact: Nico MacDonald |

New York — The Vera Institute and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law applaud the Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Health and Human Services (HHS) for issuing guidance and public findings over the last year underlining the need to reduce police involvement in behavioral health situations. At the same time, Vera and Bazelon wrote to the DOJ and HHS today urging these agencies to be explicit about the need for communities to prioritize civilian crisis responses—and further invest in these responses accordingly. For example, the guidance states that dispatching co-responder teams that pair officers with clinicians may be a “reasonable modification” in situations “where a police response is called for.” However, continued overreliance on co-responder teams and other police-led approaches will perpetuate the criminalization of people who experience behavioral health crises. Continued federal guidance and support can help communities that have long over-relied on the police for crisis response to narrow police involvement in behavioral health situations. Moreover, assessments of when it’s appropriate to rely on police should be based on the available data, and existing civilian crisis response programs are demonstrating that unarmed teams can safely and effectively resolve many crisis situations on their own.

Daniela Gilbert, Director of Vera institute of Justice’s Redefining Public Safety initiative, shared the following statement:

“Vera advises communities across the country so they can implement civilian-led responses. Vera welcomes the emphasis that the new federal guidance places on expanding alternatives to police that can better connect people with appropriate care. When someone is experiencing a behavioral health crisis, they deserve timely care and support from responders with behavioral health expertise. Unfortunately, they frequently receive a police response instead. Too often, this results in harmful—even fatal—encounters for people with unmet behavioral health needs, particularly in BIPOC communities. The guidance from the DOJ and HHS acknowledges that the status quo is unacceptable and that communities must improve their responses to people who experience behavioral health crises. The new federal guidance is an important step forward, but we look forward to more action from the DOJ and HHS that helps communities realize the full potential of their crisis response guidance. At all levels of government, we urge the prioritization of unarmed crisis responses over police-led approaches to deliver health and safety for all.”


About the Vera Institute of Justice: The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit