Issues of law enforcement dealing with individuals with mental health concerns have been discussed over the past several years. In fact in the last two years certain scenarios involving the police and street people with mental health problems have been spotlighted because lethal force has been employed to eliminate the threat. Due to the fact, that recent studies have indicated that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from some kind of mental malady, it is sure to increase.
When I was a street cop, I was not happy getting sent on a call of some individual male or female acting out due to underlying mental health issues. Why, because even though the vast majority of police do not get the requisite training that rises to the level of a psychiatrist or psychologist (nor did I or most of those I worked with care about obtaining the extent of training necessary to adequately deal with the mentally ill because we strongly felt mental health workers should be tasked with that job) the vast majority if not all states empower their law enforcement entities to be able to arrest these individuals and place them somewhere usually for a seventy-two evaluation hold if they exhibited signs that they could not longer care for themselves/others, or they were a danger to themselves or others. If I or my fellow cops were forced into dealing with these individuals, a good portion if not all of our shift was taken up because of the following: (1) If they were hurt, either due to a self-inflicted injury, or one that was caused by someone else, you would have to get them transported to a medical facility for care.(Which in of itself is the proper thing to do.) If the injury was one that kept them in the hospital, then you could move on leaving them in the care of the hospital staff. If it was minor, you got them patched up and then tried to get them into a facility that would take them, which was usually a County Hospital with limited bed space for mental health evaluations. (2) If the subject was intoxicated, and many of them were for a variety of reasons: they need supervised administration of their Meds., they either lost them or had a problem getting more, or they did not like the way they made them feel; therefore they self-medicated, you had to place them in a holding facility until they were good enough to be transported to a mental health evaluation facility, which again, are few and far between. In short, you ended up babysitting this subject for hours. Of course, if the subject was combative, which again many of them were, you would end up arresting them and booking them into jail where the law enforcement tasked with handling prisoners are oftentimes ill-equipped to adequately handle these same individuals. Unfortunately, our jails and correctional facilities have become our mental health dumping areas.
Even though the problem of mental health is epidemic and frustrating at the very least, I would like to suggest the following: Once a call for service comes into dispatch concerning a potential mental health issue, and the responding officer verifies same, a special state or county unit trained in mental health issues takes the call from there; thus freeing up the officer to actually work his or her shift dealing with crime. In fact, it would even be better if the mental health team is contacted first so they can be the primary response vehicle.
Now, I realize that some who read this may get upset because a portion of this commentary may sound rather harsh. Try and look at it from the police officers’ point of view. Yes, we took and oath to protect and serve, but that also pertains to the realm of our training and expertise. If you are one of those that want to work with the mentally ill, my hat is off to you, we need more people like you. Cops need to be available to respond to calls, take care of the issue, and then move on to the next problem, not be charged with the care of the mentally ill. The state legislatures in our country need to step up and authorize the funds to work with these people instead of spending millions on the many Mickey Mouse projects they now throw money at.