For Police, a Playbook for Conflicts Involving Mental Illness

Here’s an article from the NY Times about how our failing mental health system is forcing our police to learn new ways to deal with conflicts involving mental illness.  I believe that is a good thing, but I also sympathize with the officers who have to go through hours of additional training to do their jobs.  I have never thought that being a police officer was an easy job.  In today’s world, policing of any kind is under a microscope–increasing the pressure the officers feel when they go to work.

Please read the article and see if you agree with the author that this change is for the good and more police forces need to follow the lead of these officers.

For Police, a Playbook for Conflicts Involving Mental Illness

Officers in Portland, Ore., with an individual they interact with on a regular basis who was later taken to the hospital. Credit Amanda Lucier for The New York TimesPhoto by: Amanda Lucier for The New York Times

PORTLAND, Ore. — The 911 caller had reported a man with a samurai sword, lunging at people on the waterfront.

It was evening, and when the police arrived, they saw the man pacing the beach and called to him. He responded by throwing a rock at the embankment where they stood.

They shouted to him from a sheriff’s boat; he threw another rock. They told him to drop the sword; he said he would kill them. He started to leave the beach, and after warning him, they shot him in the leg with a beanbag gun. He turned back, still carrying the four-foot blade.

In another city — or in Portland itself not that long ago — the next step would almost certainly have been a direct confrontation and, had the man not put down the weapon, the use of lethal force.

But the Portland Police Bureau, prodded in part by the 2012 findings of a Justice Department investigation, has spent years putting in place an intensive training program and protocols for how officers deal with people with mental illness.

At a time when police behavior is under intense scrutiny — a series of fatal shootings by police officers have focused national attention on issues of race and mental illness — Portland’s approach has served as a model for other law enforcement agencies around the country.

And on that Sunday last summer, the police here chose a different course.

At 2:30 a.m., after spending hours trying to engage the man, the officers decided to “disengage,” and they withdrew, leaving the man on the beach. A search at daylight found no signs of him…(read the rest of the article here)

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