As statewide organizations representing New Yorkers in mental health and/or addiction recovery, the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, Friends of Recovery-New York and the New York Association on Independent Living join the Prude family, Free the People Roc and our members in Rochester in mourning the terrible, tragic death of Daniel Prude last March.

In an effort to get assistance to address his brother’s increasingly distressing behavior, Joseph Prude made two calls to 911 emergency dispatchers.

In the first instance, the police were called and Daniel was taken for a psychiatric evaluation at Strong Memorial Hospital. We await information about what hospital evaluators recommended when they released him several hours later.

In the second instance, 6 police officers arrived on the scene brandishing Tasers, kept a naked agitated Daniel Prude on the frozen ground and, while waiting for medical personnel to arrive, forced his head and chest into the pavement for several minutes, which suffocated and killed him.  

More: How Daniel Prude suffocated as Rochester police restrained him

Despite  three decades of specialized Crisis Intervention Team police training, far too many distressed individuals are dying at the hands of police, and far too many of them are African Americans.

While there are calls for mental health and police leaders to develop a collaborative response, our members believe that the best response is to take the police out of the primary responder role and to replace them with a two-person team comprised of an emergency medical technician and what is called a peer crisis counselor.

Had an EMT been first on the scene, there would have been no need to wait for the medical assistance that Daniel Prude so desperately needed. They would have known that “airway, breathing, circulation and cardiovascular monitoring” and possible sedation would be required to bring down the overheated state that caused Daniel to take off his clothes and to control his agitation and avert potential cardiac arrest due to the PCP intoxication. They would have worked to get him to a medical facility where he could be monitored and very possibly admitted.

Trained culturally responsive peer counselors with strong personal recoveries have come to play central roles in the development of behavioral health services and systems across the globe and should be considered as a critically important alternative to the use of traditional clinicians.

Peer counselors bring very special expertise in engaging individuals in acute states of distress drawing on their shared experience and de-escalation techniques. They would have offered Daniel Prude a humanizing calming approach, along with a kind word, a warming blanket and some dignity to him in his worst hour.

If Daniel Prude had received immediate assistance from a peer/EMT first response team rather than the police, he might still be alive today.

 Harvey Rosenthal is the CEO of the NY Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services and has worked over the last 40 years to improve services, social conditions and public policies that advance the recovery, rehabilitation and right of New Yorkers with behavioral health challenges

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