Put yourself for a moment in the shoes of a police officer.
You arrive at a call. You don’t know the details of what is going on. You might be responding to a fight, or a domestic situation, or someone threatening to harm themselves. But what exactly is happening you can’t tell.
When you arrive, there could be screaming and yelling ... chaos. Tensions are high.
You don’t know if the people at the scene are in imminent danger. You don’t know if you yourself are in imminent danger.
You don’t know the mental state of those involved. Are they extremely angry? On drugs? Mentally unstable?
It’s up to you to make split-second decisions that will diffuse the situation, keep everyone safe (including yourself) and arrest those who need to be charged with a crime.
You are seeing people at their worst. And it’s up to you to sort it out.
While some conflicts might be caused by a temporary bout of anger, and others by drug use, a third cause is mental illness.
It’s an issue that officers learn about as part of their initial training, with ongoing training also offered.
Lance LoRusso, a former police officer, Georgia attorney and author of “When Cops Kill,” told Andrew Carr for a package of stories in Sunday’s Sentinel that such training has increased a great deal in the last 20 years.
Issues dealing with mental illness and law enforcement have been analyzed to determine the best ways of dealing with them. Still, as Carlisle Borough Police Chief Stephen Margeson told us: “There is no one single answer, solution or method. It depends on the circumstances and the degree of mental illness or how emotionally upset or disturbed (an individual might be) at any given time.”
It’s important to remember, as Silvia Herman, administrator of Cumberland-Perry Mental Health/Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities pointed out to us, that most people with such issues never have contact with police officers.
But the fact that such incidents have been analyzed over the years, and that sensitivity to helping those with mental illness has increased, is something that should be lauded.
Decades ago, there likely would not have been the identification that someone under arrest had a mental illness. Now, as a society, we are more interested in diagnosing and treating those who need such help.
We too often forget that our corrections system should be based on a philosophy of rehabilitation. If those with mental illness are identified as such, we hope that’s the first step in getting treatment they might need.