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?