Policing the Mentally Ill: We Have a Vested Interest


Policing the Mentally Ill

A recent article I read in Law Enforcement stated the following: Police only shoot someone with mental illness to protect their own safety or the safety of the public. But when officers shoot, the mental health community goes up in arms, headlines and editorials scream, and we’re pictured as trigger-happy barbarians.

Yet after several of these incidents, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York State (NAMI/NYS), still gave me and NYSACOP (New York State Association of Chief’s of Police) their highest award for advocacy. What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing.

This article provides “food for thought” in terms of how society looks at police and the judgments made about them and their motivation. How often do we think of police as “advocates” for the mentally ill? And yet, the article leaves us with this prevailing sentiment: “We have a vested interest.”

Photo: Darrell Satzman

Photo: Darrell Satzman

Why do the police have a vested interest? Could it be because as mental health systems minimize treatment or withhold treatment due to ineffective laws, police are forced to take on the role of “front-line” mental health workers? This failure to provide appropriate services, compromises the safety of officers and the mentally ill citizens. Additionally, law enforcement professionals are often required to take on the role of first responders for people in mental health crises. Lastly, consideration must be given to the issue of “suicide by cop” as a factor that increases the number of individuals killed in justifiable homicides.

This complex issue which continues to jeopardize the safety of officers and citizens has no easy answers. Collaborative efforts must be made in order to resolve this issue. Judgments about who is at fault are counterproductive and all stakeholders must be a the table in order to reach solutions.

Sources Article: http://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/2014/11/20/policing-the-mentally-ill/


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