Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Law Enforcement and Mental Illness: A Sometimes Fatal Encounter

Gary Fields write on the Wall Street Journal's writes in "Live of Mentally Ill, Police Collide" the story of a police officer who shot and killed a mentally ill man who charged at him with a butcher's knife.  The man died, and the police officer, whose brother suffers from bipolar disorder, is haunted.  Fields writes:

Law-enforcement professionals and mental-health advocates believe they are seeing an increase in fatal encounters between police and the mentally ill. They point to a narrowing range of treatment options that has shifted more responsibility for the mentally ill to law officers, jails and prisons. 

"No police officer does well with shooting someone, let alone someone with mental illness," said Michael Biasotti, immediate past president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and a mental-health and law-enforcement policy researcher. "That destroys a bunch of people at once."

Fields writes: 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps track of instances of "justifiable homicide," which it defines as "the killing of a felon by a law-enforcement officer in the line of duty," but it doesn't note which of those involve mental illness. While crime rates nationally have fallen almost every year since the late 1990s, justifiable homicides by police officers have risen, from 297 in 2000 to 410 in 2012.

Hidden within that category is what is known informally as "suicide by cop," when a person intentionally provokes an officer into using lethal force. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, in Washington, D.C., which researches law-enforcement issues, said he believes this type of suicide is increasing in frequency. 

Then over on Pete Earley's blog, he has video up of an unarmed mentally ill man who was shot by police.  Unarmed.   Mr. Earley writes:

This shooting terrifies those of us who love someone with a mental illness or have a mental illness. I’ve been asked to help this video go viral so that the public will recognize the need for better police training. Please do your part and send it out.

And over on Clinical Psychiatry News, ClinkShrink is talking about law enforcement from a totally different perspective.  She received a call from a homicide detective who wanted her suggestions for how to interrogate a suspect.  Not quite the job of a forensic psychiatrist, but she talks about the ethical issues in a way that only ClinkShrink can.  See Consultation to Law Enforcement.