Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Law Enforcement and Mental Illness: A Sometimes Fatal Encounter

Gary Fields write on the Wall Street Journal's writes in "Live of Mentally Ill, Police Collide" the story of a police officer who shot and killed a mentally ill man who charged at him with a butcher's knife.  The man died, and the police officer, whose brother suffers from bipolar disorder, is haunted.  Fields writes:

Law-enforcement professionals and mental-health advocates believe they are seeing an increase in fatal encounters between police and the mentally ill. They point to a narrowing range of treatment options that has shifted more responsibility for the mentally ill to law officers, jails and prisons. 

"No police officer does well with shooting someone, let alone someone with mental illness," said Michael Biasotti, immediate past president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and a mental-health and law-enforcement policy researcher. "That destroys a bunch of people at once."

Fields writes: 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps track of instances of "justifiable homicide," which it defines as "the killing of a felon by a law-enforcement officer in the line of duty," but it doesn't note which of those involve mental illness. While crime rates nationally have fallen almost every year since the late 1990s, justifiable homicides by police officers have risen, from 297 in 2000 to 410 in 2012.

Hidden within that category is what is known informally as "suicide by cop," when a person intentionally provokes an officer into using lethal force. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, in Washington, D.C., which researches law-enforcement issues, said he believes this type of suicide is increasing in frequency. 

Then over on Pete Earley's blog, he has video up of an unarmed mentally ill man who was shot by police.  Unarmed.   Mr. Earley writes:

This shooting terrifies those of us who love someone with a mental illness or have a mental illness. I’ve been asked to help this video go viral so that the public will recognize the need for better police training. Please do your part and send it out.

And over on Clinical Psychiatry News, ClinkShrink is talking about law enforcement from a totally different perspective.  She received a call from a homicide detective who wanted her suggestions for how to interrogate a suspect.  Not quite the job of a forensic psychiatrist, but she talks about the ethical issues in a way that only ClinkShrink can.  See Consultation to Law Enforcement.


AliceA said...

While Mr. Early's comments seem innocuous:

"This shooting terrifies those of us who love someone with a mental illness or have a mental illness. I’ve been asked to help this video go viral so that the public will recognize the need for better police training. Please do your part and send it out."

They must be understood in the larger context. NAMI, to some a cult, to others an "advocacy organization" has been quietly organizing all over the country to offer their "free support" to police departments in every city they can reach, via a "CIT" training course. In these cash strapped towns, cities, and counties, any "free support" and "training" they can get is welcomed. However, few realize that NAMI has a very specific agenda, to train police officers to bring a family member to a psychiatric hospital (detain them) whether it is warranted or not. Mr. Early knows all about the "CIT Training Program" and promotes it more openly in other avenues. Unfortunately, no forensic psychiatrists or civil rights attorneys have been involved in the curriculum and as a result many more American citizens face the prospect of being hauled away by the police for a family dispute than ever did before. Because with NAMI, dysfunctional families and identified patients are NEVER the issue, it is always the "brain disease" of the person NAMI called the CIT cop they trained to come get them and "make sure" they got the treatment-or in this case the "hold" the family member was sure they needed. It is a very, very dangerous thing happening here, that should be recognized by all forensics and beyond. NAMI is trying to accomplish through back doors (offering free training as an "authority" to the police) what they could not accomplish through the front door (dismantling civil rights). At this point in history, NAMI has realized that the front door is blocked, and all eyes should be on the back doors they are trying to sneak in through, like this one. Nice try, Mr. Early.

Dinah said...

The police don't hospitalize people, they bring them to the ER for evaluation, and the mental health professionals in the ER make a decision. In Maryland, roughly half of the people brought in are released without being hospitalized.

The point of CIT training is to help the police safely transport people rather than kill them.

ClinkShrink said...

Forensic psychiatrists have been involved in CIT training. I did it myself many years ago before it went by that name. AAPL has a law enforcement liaison committee that has presented on CIT issues before.