It’s Time to Stop Killing the Mentally Ill

I have written about these situations before.

Whether it is in Times Square, Saginaw, or rural America, police must develop other tools besides firearms to resolve these kind of stand-offs which, more often than not, involve persons who are mentally ill.

By “other tools” I mean more than Tasers, I mean that police must develop skills with batons (from those which are personally carried, to bo-staffs — 72 inches or more feet in length). Today’s police officers must be competent martial artists in weapons in addition to firearms.

And so I am proposing training that involves individual and teams of police officers to take into custody disturbed or mentally ill persons with edged or blunt weapons without having to use deadly force. Today’s police should have the ability to develop less-than-deadly response strategies.

Yes, I know about officer safety and its importance. But police officers have too long been trained in the “21 foot rule;” which is if a person with a knife is within 21 feet of you they can kill you before you can stop them. I believe that learning needs to be revisited and is, perhaps, the cause of far too many deaths in these situations. (A scan of YouTube.com will reveal almost hundreds of these type of shootings similar to the one posted on this blog).

In past posts, I have suggested tactical systems in which police officers use combinations of  long staffs, shields, nets, and even the use of “sticky foam”  (in addition to Tasers, which I am NOT ruling out). This is based on the important objective that police work to preserve, not take, human life whenever possible.

While the video posted here is unsettling in both use of deadly force and tactics which compromise officer safety, I am afraid these situations happen all too frequently.

Last month, I met with county mental health workers in my community and urged them to dialogue and work with police in responding to taking persons into custody regarding mental health commitments. When I asked them what it one thing that could be done to improve the current situation they said, “Have police call us. We may know person and can help out.”

I urged them to approach the court and have the mental health worker’s name and phone attached to the commitment and, if it is possible, for police to call before contact. I hope this policy is worked through and goes into effect.

My sense is that too many mentally ill persons lives are being lost each year because police (and mental health workers) are not taking an active initiative in pursuing less-than-deadly response strategies.

What do you think?

9 Comments

  1. Hello Chief,
    I’ve read your book and agree with many points and appreciate and often agree with your views. I would however, like to see more -required- by society of our mental health system. I have been an officer in a major agency (got a late start) for over 17 years. I have actually had a mental health case worker show up on two (2) calls. I fully realize funding/staffing is a huge issue, but the BEST people to assist in a crisis of this nature (I have attended extensive CIT training) are mental health professionals. I have yet to see a case worker in the evening, on a weekend, on a Holiday (you get the picture). Since the creation of full time police forces, the police have either been required, or have elected to take on roles that we should have never assumed. This has the potential to become similar to the “War on Drugs” for us eventually…

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    1. You’re right, John. I have been a strong proponent to bring back what we once had in Madison — 24/7 mental health caseworkers to assist us in our work. It is a necessary collaboration. What we pay for in wrongful death litigation can probably be put into working upstream with this very taxing police clientele! I remain hopeful that we will come to see this as a necessity, not a luxury! Be careful out there and continue to be a great cop!

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      1. Thanks Chief,
        We have a County and a State mental Health “system” here and neither appears (without being unkind) to do much. In construction (where I worked after the military) there was a thing called a “chargeback” where if I had to do your job in order to do mine, our company would charge you for the work that you should have done… Pretty drastic, but it’s a thought. Also, our Courts need to take a look again at the need for institutionalizing some people. I’m certain that it is still cheaper and SAFER than releasing people who can’t care for themselves in the care of police/fire/medical responders.

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      2. Yes… wouldn’t charge-backs be nice! The problem today has gotten out of hand and the mental health/CJ “systems” responsible. Time to stop, ID the problem, and work together on the best solution(s). Hey, we’ve been on the moon, there’s the Mars probe, and the Hubble telescope so can’t we now solve some of our human problems.

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  2. Excellent suggestion David. Great opportunity for police and mental health people to share in actual situations, not just out of a text.

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  3. I much rather see police use and abuse tasers then guns. Tasers should be their go to weapon, the only time they should pull out a gun is if someone is actually shooting at them, everything else: taser first. True a taser is not a perfect weapon, but one step at a time.

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    1. I may be wrong, but I sense there may be a lack of confidence in using a taser especially when the person confronted has an edged weapon. Alternatives to deadly force need to be discussed and developed.

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