Police need training to deal with mentally ill

November 3, 2010 — by Aanchal Mohan and Allison Toh

People often see police as the heroes of a community. Officers are the embodiment of justice and security, giving equal treatment to all people and ensuring safety within the community. On Sept 26, such was not the case when it came to 43-year-old Michael Lee, who had a history of drug abuse and mental illness.

A complaint regarding overly loud music was filed against Lee with the San Francisco Police department. The department responded to the complaint, but how it responded to the situation has raised concerns over the treatment of mentally ill individuals. Lee was in bed when the officers entered his room, and after a heated argument, Lee was dead in his own room, shot by one of the officers.

Although it is important to respect and avoid further handicapping the mentally ill with disparaging remarks or behavior, it is equally important to take into consideration how their reactions to situations may be different.

In Lee’s situation, the officer not only barged into the private room without his consent but also shot him, acting with poor judgment and little basis. Even if Lee had not had a history of mental illness, the officer’s actions are not justifiable.

According to a story in “The New York Times,” one out of the 10 people police officers deal with are mentally ill. As part of the officers’ initial training, they should be taught how to act appropriately in these situations. And police should not be allowed the excuse of saying that they were unaware of a person’s condition. When a schizophrenic man was fatally in 2001 by the police, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors ordered the police department to have all officers go through special training to avoid such disasters in the future.

However, due to budget cuts, this training has been suspended from the department. Nevertheless, even before the elimination of such training, the department never included a separate unit of officers to deal with calls relating to the mentally ill.

Lee’s case turned from a simple matter of someone playing his music too loud to an innocent life being taken. While the officer has not commented on the matter, action needs to be taken against the department by issuing a warning so that it brings to the department’s attention that it needs to establish an individual unit. Other cities have this development, and the San Fransisco police department should also follow in suit.

Even if measures are taken against the department for its mistreatment, the often derogatory mindset of the public concerning the mentally ill must be altered for the safety of other handicapped individuals. Though there would be an increase in finance, having a separate division dealing with situations regarding the mentally ill would be more beneficial to the safety of all persons alike.

1 view this week