By Tara Adams Ragone
Social media recently focused my attention on two very different law enforcement interactions with people with mental illness that reinforce the need for increased training of law enforcement in crisis intervention as well as the need for improved access to treatment for people with mental illness.
The first is a video of the fatal police shooting of Kajieme Powell in St. Louis, Missouri earlier this month. Mr. Powell was twenty-five years old and suspected of shoplifting junk food from a convenience store. The first eighty seconds of the video show Mr. Powell pacing and muttering on the sidewalk — with four pedestrians passing by without incident — before the police arrive. The police then exited their vehicles with their guns drawn, shouted at Mr. Powell to drop his weapon, and fired about twelve shots fewer than twenty seconds after they arrived on the scene.
The second is an NPR story that included an audio recording of law enforcement officials in San Antonio, Texas responding to a 911 call about a twenty-four year old group home resident named Mason, who was off of his medications, had set his blanket on fire, and was a danger to himself and others. When they arrived at the scene, the officers acknowledged that they did not use the “tough guy command voice” that they typically would in responding to a 911 call reporting suspected criminal activity. Instead, in plain clothes and without their weapons drawn, they spoke calmly with Mason, reassuring him that they wanted to get him help. They astutely noticed signs suggesting that Mason was experiencing tactile, auditory, and visual hallucinations, and with patience and skilled questioning, got him to acknowledge the hallucinations and seek psychiatric treatment.
The San Antonio officers were members of a six-person mental health squad that the city created to confront severe prison overcrowding. Continue reading