Cops Dealing with the Mentally Ill

It’s a common scenario in the news.

Police are at a standoff with an individual who is acting irrationally. Their commands to surrender go unheeded. He or she makes an aggressive gesture. Shots ring out and the individual is wounded or killed.

No one wins in a situation like that, and police departments around the country are searching for ways to ensure a favorable outcome when dealing with people who have a mental illness.

By some estimates, 25% of the people fatally shot by police in this century have had a mental disorder.

Today, as police behavior is under intense scrutiny -- a series of fatal shootings have focused national attention on issues of race and mental illness -- the approach by police in Portland, OR has served as a model for other law enforcement agencies around the country.

Spurred in part by a 2012 Justice Department finding, the Portland Police Bureau, has spent years putting in place an intensive training program and protocols for how officers deal with the mentally ill.

Studies indicate that this training can alter the way officers view people with mental illness. And teaching officers new ways to defuse potentially violent encounters before force becomes necessary is useful for police facing any volatile situation, even if a mental health crisis is not involved.

Portland’s program is representative of new thinking on the part of many law enforcement agencies. Most police officers have learned to accept that part of their job is dealing with mental illness in ways that make a peaceful outcome most likely.

Sourced from: The New York Times, For Police, a Playbook for Conflicts Involving Mental Illness