Archive for the ‘Police Treatment of the Mentally Ill’ Category

Police Treatment of the Mentally Ill   Leave a comment

I am bipolar II.  A couple of years ago I began having issues with my current medication and sunk into a deep depression.  So deep I decided to commit suicide.  I took my most potent medication, got a bottle of vodka and a room at a deserted hotel by the beach in San Francisco.  It wasn’t long before I was drunk and disoriented.

I’m bad at a lot of things.  Baseball, math, bead-work, Excel spreadsheets and suicide, to scratch the surface.   Apparently in the throes of suicide I called my friend David to say “goodbye,” he called the police and they traced my cell phone signal.   I was simple to find because my monstrous “73 Eldorado Convertible stuck out like a sore thumb in the row of faded pastel colored motels and their parking lots.

So there I am laying on a rusted-springed saggy bed flat on my stomach drunk and dazed still with the cell phone in my hand and all of a sudden the San Francisco Police come crashing through the hotel room door.  It was like an episode of Cops only I was the “bad boy.”  They searched the room as one cop held my limp body down on the bed in case I decided to get up and do a Gumby impression.

The next thing I knew I was in handcuffs, being lead out to a police car and literally thrown in the back.  I could hear my girlfriend and David in the background screaming that I wasn’t a criminal and didn’t need to be handled so roughly.  “Where did they come from?” I wondered.

I became terrified in my half-conscious altered state.  Through the plexiglass separating me from the officers in the front seat I remember trying to explain I was depressed and not dangerous to anyone and them telling me to “just shut up.”  I was positive the way they were treating me I was going to jail.   I started to bang my head against the divider and the next thing I remember I was at San Francisco General Hospital, where the police dump off indigents, gunshot victims, hookers and prisoners in need of medical care.  Not bipolar II advertising professionals.

Today Oklahoma’s NewsOK reported that Oklahoma Police Department is receiving advanced training on dealing with the mentally ill.  They realize attempted suicides and self-inflicted cries for help can not be handled like crime scenes.  Nor can the victim, or mentally ill individual, be treated like a criminal.  I applaud the Oklahoma Police Department for their progressive thinking.

Now let’s be realistic, when a police officer answers a call they usually don’t know what to expect.  Will there be violence?  Is the tenor of the scene going to escalate? Are there weapons around?  They have to take precaution to stabilize the scene and protect themselves.  But once they’ve determined it’s an act of aggression not trained outward and more a plea for assistance, they police should act with some compassion and understanding.  In fact, mistreating someone who is already intending to injure themselves will almost surely create a more tense situation.

Finally, we have to stop putting our mentally ill in jail or prison for lack of better options.  Even if they have acted criminally, rehabilitation can not happen if the accused doesn’t understand their crime.  Or, they can not control their criminal behavior.  In California where I live, the prison system is greatly overcrowded and underfunded.  Consequently, mentally ill prisoners are not getting the necessary treatment.  And since roughly 90% of inmates do eventually get released, you’d think making sure they are mentally stable to be of great concern in order to keep recidivism rates low.

When it comes to how the law deals with the mentally ill in crisis situations, it’s a backwards, upside-down often nonsensical approach.  However if more police departments follow Oklahoma’s lead with better training, such calls will be less likely to escalate and the mentally ill will get the treatment they so badly need.