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.

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United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness

Jail and prison staff throughout the United States have used unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released last week.

The 127-page report, “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” details incidents in which correctional staff have deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. Staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their death.

Staff in US correctional facilities are authorized to use force when necessary to control dangerous or highly disruptive prisoners. But as Human Rights Watch found, staff at times respond with violence when prisoners engage in behavior that is symptomatic of their mental health problems and even when it is minor and non-threatening, such as urinating on the floor, using profane language, banging on a cell door, masturbating, complaining about not receiving a meal, or refusing to come out of a cell. Staff also sometimes use force to punish inmates who annoy or anger them.

via United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness | Human Rights Watch.

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.

 

 

 

Guns and potentially violent persons

As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients. But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals, according to a recent Duke University report on linking the issues of anger and access to guns.

Researchers found that anger-prone people with guns were at elevated risk for a range of fairly common psychiatric conditions such as personality disorders, alcohol abuse, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, while only a tiny fraction suffered from acute symptoms of major disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Fewer than one in 10 angry people with access to guns had ever been admitted to a hospital for a psychiatric or substance abuse problem, the study found. As a result, most of these individuals’ medical histories wouldn’t stop them from being able to legally purchase guns under existing mental-health-related restrictions.

Researchers suggest data could support “dangerous persons” gun removal laws, like those in Connecticut and Indiana, or a “gun violence restraining order” law like California recently enacted. Such laws give family members and law enforcement a legal tool to immediately seize guns and prevent gun or ammunition purchases by people who show warning signs of impending violence.

via Nearly one in ten U.S. adults have impulsive anger issues and access to guns — ScienceDaily.

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.

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.

Law enforcement and the “dangerous person”

Most police officers have frequent contact with people with mental illness, but have minimal training in recognizing the symptoms and assessing when they should be taken to a clinic or emergency room for further evaluation. Perhaps the most useful intervention … is to provide police officers with some good, basic mental health knowledge.

When guns are present, officers might use de-escalation skills to temporarily remove weapons from individuals at-risk of violence or suicide.  If one happens to be in a state such as Indiana that has a preemptive “dangerous person” gun seizure law, police can remove firearms without a warrant, pending a judicial hearing, even if the person with mental illness is not imminently dangerous at the time and wouldn’t meet criteria for involuntary commitment.

We also might examine the minimum age at which people can easily purchase guns. FBI data indicate that 45 percent of identified murderers are younger than age 25.  Many young adults are experiencing (often for the first time) serious mental health or social difficulties, and thus pose special risks to themselves and others. Rental car companies apply extra scrutiny to drivers under the age of 25. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for gun policy.

via Why law enforcement missed Elliot Rodger’s warnings signs – The Washington Post.