Police shootings: Distraught people, deadly results

Police increasingly acknowledge that they have few effective tools for handling the mentally ill. In interviews, current and former police chiefs said that without large-scale police retraining, as well as a nationwide increase in mental health services, these deadly encounters will continue.

Severe budget cuts for psychiatric services — by as much as 30 percent in some states in recent years — have created a vacuum that local police are increasingly asked to fill, they said.

“We as a society need to put more money and funding into treating the mentally ill. We need to work with these people . . . before they end in tragedy,” said Mike Carter, the police chief in Sand Springs, Okla.

Police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands.

But yelling and pointing guns is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range. But training is no panacea, experts caution.

The mentally ill are unpredictable. Moreover, police often have no way of knowing when they are dealing with a mentally ill person. Officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong. And in a handful of cases this year, police were prodded to shoot someone who wanted to die.

via Police shootings: Distraught people, deadly results | The Washington Post.

Guilty of Mental Illness

Criminalizing mental illness is costly, inhumane and counterproductive. On average it costs $143 a day to incarcerate someone who is not mentally ill, but twice as much if the individual has a psychiatric condition and requires doctor’s care, medication and extra security. Experts say the money used to lock people up could be better spent helping people get the mental health and other social services they need to live productive, meaningful lives.

Many are incarcerated for committing survival crimes, offenses involving people trying to get something to eat, find a place to sleep and just get by. Incarceration can also exacerbate psychiatric illness…

 

via Guilty of Mental Illness.

 

 

 

Guilty of Being Poor

Here’s something you might not know about Ferguson, Missouri: In this city of 21,000 people, 16,000 have outstanding arrest warrants. In fact, in 2013 alone, authorities issued 9,000 warrants for over 32,000 offenses.

That’s one-and-a-half offenses for every resident of Ferguson in just one year.

Most of the warrants are for minor offenses such as traffic or parking violations. And they’re part of a structural pattern of abuse, according to a recent Department of Justice investigation.

The damning report found that the city prioritized aggressive revenue collection over public safety. It documented unconstitutional policing, violations of due process, and racial bias against the majority black population.

One woman’s story illustrates what’s happening to more and more people as municipal revenues become the focus of police departments all over the country.

It began with a parking ticket back in 2007, which saddled a low-income black woman with a $151 fine and extra fees. In economic distress and frequently homeless, she was unable to pay. So she was hit with new fines and fees — and eventually an arrest warrant that landed her in jail.

By 2010, she’d paid the court $550 for the single parking violation, but more penalties had accrued. She attempted to make payments of $25 and $50, but the court rejected those partial installments.

Even after being jailed and paying hundreds of dollars above the original fine, she still owes the court $541 — all because she lacked the money to pay the initial fees.

This woman’s story is repeating itself in town after town.

It’s even worse for the homeless. A majority of cities now prohibit sitting or lying down in public, and nearly a quarter make it a crime to ask for food or money.

via Guilty of Being Poor | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

It’s Not Just Ferguson

English: Timeline of yearly U.S criminal justi...

The Department of Justice confirmed on March 8 what many of Ferguson’s residents have been saying, and protesting against, for months: the city racks up millions of dollars each year in fines and court fees by illegally harassing its black population. What the federal government did not say, however, is that the practice of criminalizing black people to raise money for police and court systems is not rare; local governments across the country have been doing it for years—ironically, to offset the spiraling costs of the incarceration boom of the past three decades.

In an afternoon press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder described Ferguson as “a community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue.” Holder said the pressure to keep revenue flowing has generated constitutional violations at “nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system”—including inappropriate use of force.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement—the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” said Holder, later adding, “Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.”

Holder’s conclusion, coming after an in-depth, six-month investigation in Ferguson, could have easily described many cities and local jurisdictions across the country.

Ironically, the trend appears to have been driven by the incarceration wave that preceded it. Many of the laws that states now use to impose court fees and fines were passed in the 1990s and early 2000’s. “Jurisdictions began to look for sources of funding to support their criminal justice systems,” explains Alexes Harris, a sociologist at the University of Washington who is researching the topic now.

“As a result of…hyper-incarceration that began in the mid-1970’s, systems of government could no longer afford what they were doing. Essentially, policy makers decided to shift the burden of the costs of prosecution, incarceration and criminal justice management onto the backs of the people it processed.”

While the court fees and fines generate revenue, Harris argues they are also about social control. “The legal justification for creating layers and layers of policies that allow courts to assess fines and fees from traffic tickets to misdemeanors to felony offenses is that jurisdictions need money to run their systems of justice. But in practice—in effect—the system turns into a strict system of control, and this control is over poor people.”

via It’s Not Just Ferguson | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

Mentally Ill Victims of Excessive Police Force

What we do know is that the mentally ill are dramatically more likely to be the victims of excessive police force, and to be the victims of death by cop. A study by the Portland Press Herald in Maine found that nearly half of people shot by police between 2000 and 2012 were mentally ill, and that police lack proper training on defusing deadly conflicts. A KQED review in San Francisco this year found a similar proportion of mentally ill victims. In several other cities including Portland, Oregon, and Albequerque, New Mexico, Department of Justice investigations have concluded that officers have systematically used more force than necessary against the mentally ill, leading to deaths or serious injuries in many instances.Mental Illness logo-wBanner

It’s a common scenario for police interactions with the mentally ill to escalate from what starts as a call for help. In fact, while Cleveland police didn’t turn to their guns, police do in many other instances. Last month, a psychiatric patient was shot and killed last month while being transported to a mental institution. One of the police shootings that prompted a scathing DOJ investigation of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police was a shooting of a suicidal Iraq War veteran who was pointing a gun at his own head. And last year, several prominent police shootings involved incidents in which family members of the victims had called the police for help.

Protocol that are typical for potentially violent incidents — such as barking police commands — can actually have an adverse impact on those with mental illness. Particularly in instances when police know before they arrive on the scene that a patient is suffering from mental illness — in fact is in need of police help precisely because of their mental illness — some police departments deploy special mental health crisis teams.

Among the recommendations of a 2012 report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services. But these tactics are under-employed in many police interventions.

via How Did This Unarmed Schizophrenic Woman End Up Dead At The Hands Of Police? | ThinkProgress.

Guns & Suicide: The Hidden Toll

Far more people kill themselves with a firearm each year than are murdered with one. In 2010 in the U.S., 19,392 people committed suicide with guns, compared with 11,078 who were killed by others. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.; in 2010, 38,364 people killed themselves. In more than half of these cases, they used firearms.

Access-to-guns-and-risk-of-suicide-chartIndeed, more people in this country kill themselves with guns than with all other intentional means combined, including hanging, poisoning or overdose, jumping, or cutting. Though guns are not the most common method by which people attempt suicide, they are the most lethal. About 85 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death.

Rates of firearm suicides in states with the highest rates of gun ownership are 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women, compared with states with the lowest gun ownership—though the rates of non-firearm suicides are about the same.

“Cut it however you want: In places where exposure to guns is higher, more people die of suicide.”

When widely used lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, as do suicide rates overall.

It’s important that gun owners and non-gun-owners talk to one another. The question can’t be, “What do you think of gun control?” because everybody’s going to be for or against. The question needs to be, “How do we solve the problem of gun suicide?”

via Guns & Suicide: The Hidden Toll | Magazine Features | Harvard School of Public Health Magazine Features.

 

Why Are Cops Shooting So Many Mentally Ill People?

Increasingly, as mental health facilities close across the nation, officers are becoming the first responders to calls of people in a mental health crisis. In Chicago, mental health clinics are closing at an alarming rate, leaving patients vulnerable to homelessness and susceptible to dangerous interactions with police who are trained to subdue criminals, not assist civilians in mental distress. The top mental health institutions in the U.S. are the Cook County, Los Angeles County and New York City’s Riker’s Island jails: many people needing help are viewed through the lense of criminality instead of mental health.

via Why Are Cops Shooting So Many Mentally Ill People? | Alternet.