Is it safe (do “mentally ill” have more to fear from the police than the police have to fear from them)

Not long ago that would have seemed like a stupid question to many people.  The conventional wisdom would have been if someone was in a crisis situation defer to professionals better trained, more experienced, and more able than ordinary citizens.  Sadly what has become tragically obvious is that too many, way too many police are not better trained, more experienced, nor more able.  They are trained to take control of situations in ways when someone is in crisis often make it worse.  Their experience of dealing with criminals does not translate into people dealing with a mental health crisis.  And their ability at times seems limited.  They don’t understand mental health crisis and when the only tool in your tool bag is to threaten, intimidate and control people who only get in worse crisis when you do that tragedies are way too likely and in fact way too often.

Many officers do well.  The documented success of CIT training makes this real obvious.  Police can and in fact do learn to handle mental health crisis better.

But it is like dealing blind from a deck in way too many places.  You can call but do you live in a place that you are sure of the likelihood that the person that comes will handle the crisis without creating a tragedy or in some way hurting the person they are supposed to help?  A couple of years ago I read of a police officer who shot and killed a suicidal man because the man was upset and wouldn’t listen to him.  Maybe he was “afraid for his safety.”  He certainly stabilized the situation.

I know of a mother who had to beg police not to shoot her son.  He had a tee shirt wrapped around his hands.  Their plan was too shoot first and check later.  Over the last couple of years I have listened to a whole raft of people tell me of situations that never made the paper in which people in mental health crisis were hurt, injured or traumatized.

I wonder a lot of things and really have no answer.  If you live somewhere with safe police you are indeed blessed.  You never know, but my hunch for me, where live and based on my experience I would think more than twice about what to do.


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