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Tragedy struck the city of Detroit Jan. 24 when police officer Glenn Doss Jr. responded to a domestic disturbance call and was killed.

Many assumed it was another open and shut case of violence against police officers. Not until days later did we learn that this tragedy could have been avoided. His death was preventable. His family and friends are laying him to rest because a sick man did not receive the care he required to address his mental health issues.

The family of the man accused has stated that he is mentally ill, and was off his medication. What if we had the proper treatment plan in place to support his attacker? What if we made available the appropriate community support system? But what if legislators finally took this issue seriously and recognized the importance of policy and the necessary funding to address this continuing issue in all of our Michigan communities?

As a member of the House C.A.R.E.S. Task Force, I have repeatedly heard about the lack of access to mental health care resources. Success in one region is difficult to implement in another, thanks to an extremely disconnected system.

Finding a way to replicate that success is critical. I have heard from graduates of programs across the state that without the interventions they’d participated in, lives would be substantially worse off. Why do we not implement comprehensive mental health care changes? Maybe, just maybe ... it’s because we fear what we don’t understand, and therefore don’t fund the programs necessary to treat mental illness.

The bipartisan House C.A.R.E.S. Task Force, which I was honored to be part of, developed recommendations to increase access, increase quality of care and improve community supports.

These recommendations may seem small, but they can make a large difference. Opportunities like continuing to fund 911 registration. The simple access to information for a 911 operator to be able to advise an officer in route to a scene that provides the officer with some advance notice of a person with a mental illness in my mind is critical to saving everyone’s life. Something as simple as registering with 911 could have changed the whole situation last week.

Could the accused have benefited from enhanced care? We need to find creative ways to increase opportunities for intermediate and long-term care. We need to ensure wrap-around services and peer support. We cannot just expect someone who is suffering to understand the complex system of care and all the entry points into the system.

There are watershed moments in your time of public service where you feel compelled to act, or are reminded why you sought public office in the first place. For me, it was to prevent tragedies like this. I am devastated that this time, we could not help. My heart breaks for Officer Doss’ family and friends, and my most sincere condolences go out to them. I am determined to implement the recommendations of the task force, because I do not ever want this to happen again. We have stigmatized mental health issues in this country for too long.

We have avoided the conversation on mental health treatment for too long. Before we lose another police officer, before another veteran dies by suicide, before another family is torn apart — we must act.

Rep. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, represents Michigan’s 9th House district.

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