Police and the Mentally Disabled The lack of proper police training has resulted in the deaths and injuries of many mentally disabled people, but many departments are pushing for change.

Glossary

Incarceration: If one is incarcerated, it means they are confined in jail as punishment.

Treatment: Treatment is medical care that a person receives if they are not well.

Denouncing : To denounce something means to declare it as wrong.

Disabilities : A disability is a condition where one is limited, either mentally or physically.

Corruption: Corruption is when someone is dishonest given their power and it typically involves bribe.

Escalate : To heighten or intensify something.

Mental Illness : Disorder that can affect someone’s mood, thinking, and behavior.

How do police officers escalate situations with the mentally ill when they can just call the Crisis Intervention Team?

When an officer has to respond to someone with a mental illness, it can end with an injury, death, or jail for that person because police lack proper training for these situations. It is clear that CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) wasn’t called when someone ends up hurt and a mentally disabled person is involved. For example, James Hall, a legally blind man with schizoaffective disorder, was cornered and shot by several police officers. A similar case would be Cleo Moore, a diagnosed schizophrenic, who was pepper sprayed, hit with a baton, and shot twice after punching the officer that hit him with the baton (Walsh). The situation was essentially escalated in this case because they decided to go back up the stairs to restrain him, not knowing that Moore had mental health problems, and didn’t call CIT. It is not always clear whether someone has a mental disorder or not, but an officer of the law is trained to detect certain symptoms so that they can get to a safe distance from the disabled person and CIT can be called (Walsh). Unfortunately, the training is only approximately two hours long, which is why symptoms are not always recognized right away. Someone experiencing a psychotic episode can be suspicious, frightened and combative when police arrive. A person can even become violent as their stress and anxiety builds, which lands them in jail and leads to injuries for both the person and the police (Hench). Detecting symptoms are the first step to helping both parties stay safe and making sure that these people are given the proper treatment from CIT, but police make the mistake of escalating the incident, putting stress and anxiety on someone that has difficulties controlling what they do. These are mistakes that can end up putting someone in jail when they only needed help.

How often are the mentally ill being sent to jail rather than receiving help?

Because police are not given the proper amount of training to aid the mentally ill, the result can be jail and an absence of medical help that the individual needs. The mentally ill make up more than 25 percent of Maine's jail population and the number for the nation's jailed population as a whole is 16 percent (Hench). These numbers may suggest that a reform in police training is necessary given the large amount of people in jail that suffer from a mental disorder. Take Blaec Lammers for example, whose parents told officials ahead of time that they were concerned for their son’s mental health and how dangerous he may be. Not only did Lammers not receive medical help at the scene, as the parents requested, but he ended up with 15 years in prison (“Our Voice: Help for family members with mental illness”). Even when authorities were warned of the case they were about to encounter, they approached Lammers themselves instead of calling the Crisis Intervention Team, resulting in jail time for the mentally ill man. There is a pattern of the mentally disabled wanting help, but facing incarceration instead because they were not given chance to receive the attention they needed. Police and their use of excessive force is another reason that many mentally disabled people are in jail.

What is the cause of mentally ill people being injured or dying at the hands of police officers?

Although many cases where a mentally disabled person is injured or killed is the result of improper training, the police’s use of excessive force is another cause. When the force used against a mentally ill person becomes more aggressive than constraining, the intentions and training behind these officers are questioned. An example of this would be Parminder Singh Shergill, a man who suffered from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is reported that Shergill refused the officers’ demands to talk and threatened them with a knife as they pursued him, which led them to open fire. They fired 14 bullets into his body and one witness said he saw Shergill raise his right hand and take "three or four steps quickly toward" the officers. At least two others said he never lunged at police (Hubert). Statements from witnesses, although different, saw little to no fault on Shergill’s part for his demise. Even so, 14 bullets is excessive for self defense. It is due to cases such as this that police departments are taking responsibility by denouncing the actions of their officers and making a change in their training. As a response to their use of excessive force, the Chicago Police Force, firefighters, and paramedics, are receiving courses on how to manage people who suffer with mental health disabilities (Walsh). Police departments are beginning to recognize that they are using too much force against the mentally ill and they are making an effort to change that. Mental health training is necessary, but the ability of officers to restrain themselves, especially around the mentally disabled, is equally important. When an officer is unable to do these things, the consequences that follow will often fluctuate, but police are not always penalized for their actions.

Are police given consequences after being involved in the death of a mentally ill person?

Police officers are not always penalized if they are responsible for a mentally disabled person’s injuries or death. Although this is not the case one hundred percent of the time, a lack of consequence is due to corruption within the police departments. Seven officers of the Chicago Police Force were accused of issuing fake reports about the incident where Officer Jason Van Dyke shot Laquan McDonald, a mentally disabled 17 year old, but a video emerged showing him shooting McDonald 16 times as he was walking away and refusing to drop a knife (Walsh). Not only did the officer use excessive force and lied about it, but many other police officers helped him cover it up. The situation was almost cleared until the video emerged, but the fact that it disproved many of the police reports shows the corruption that took place, something that isn’t always revealed and allows officers to get by without consequence. According to FBI statistics, approximately 400 people are killed by police officers each year in the United States. In the vast majority of those cases, the use of deadly force is found to be justified, and rarely results in a criminal complaint (Hubert). The argument of self defense is often used to justify an officer’s actions, just as the Chicago Police Department did for McDonald and just as the Lodi Police department did when two officers shot a man who suffered from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder. These are cases where the actions of police were taken into consideration for change while many of the officers were let off with a warning. Although not all of the officers were given consequences, many police departments are aiming to improve on their mental illness training while giving more courses to help those who weren’t given sufficient training the first time.

What does a Crisis Intervention Team training session look like for police?

A training session with the Crisis Intervention Team is much more in depth compared to the two hour sessions most officers receive for dealing with the mentally ill. It gives police officers the chance to help someone who is mentally disabled instead of hurting them. Every department that goes through this training has similar sessions and activities. Some consist of talking to mannequins and actors in order to recognize the symptoms of a mental illness (Walsh). Another portion of CIT training has police using a 3D simulation of what a mentally ill person can often hear, see, and feel (“Police Learn How To Handle Crisis Situations Involving The Mentally Ill”). This training gives police the opportunity to de escalate situations with the mentally ill and call CIT if needed because they will be able to know whether or not someone needs special attention. The Crisis Intervention Team training sessions have had the impact that they wanted as many communities see a decrease in the mentally ill jail population. In communities where there are field crisis intervention teams, that frequency is of jail population is between 4 percent and 5 percent (Hench). It is clear that many police departments are making a change in order to keep the mentally ill out of jail and safe, something that has been a result of the CIT sessions. In the future, there may be significant change worldwide in how the police force handles the mentally ill, given the many departments that have taken on CIT training.

Perspective of the mentally Ill

This is Paton Blough, someone who suffers from a bipolar disorder. Having been arrested due to his episodes, Blough shares what happens when he acts out and uses his experiences to help train police officers in crisis management when dealing with the mentally ill. This shows the perspective of someone with a mental illness and what he has done in order to educate police officers on the issue.

Credits:

Created with images by G20Voice - "Police" • Falkenpost - "prison cell slammer" • C64-92 - "Chile - Education Rally/Violent Protest"

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