Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf today approved legislation to require police training on mental health, intellectual disability, and autism. The new law earned praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania as a step forward for fair policing.

“This is one of many steps that need to be taken to repair the broken relationship between the police and local communities,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Awareness of mental health and intellectual and developmental disabilities is imperative for police. This type of training can give them greater awareness of what they may encounter on the street.

“We are grateful for the support of Governor Wolf and the General Assembly.”

Introduced by Representative Tom Caltagirone of Berks County, House Bill 221 passed the state House, 197-1, in February and the state Senate unanimously last month. It is the first civil liberties-related legislation to reach Governor Wolf’s desk since his inauguration in January.

“Most people know someone impacted by mental illness,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Interactions between police and people with these disabilities can end tragically without proper training. This is a public safety measure for both the police and the people they encounter.”

The new law also requires regular training on mental health, intellectual disability, and autism for magisterial district judges.

“In a town where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the weather, this bill had strong bipartisan support,” Hoover said. “It gives police important tools for their work and increases the likelihood that people living with these disabilities are treated fairly. It’s a win for everyone.”