Increasingly police departments are arresting people who are mentally ill, people who do not understand commands, who think they are someone else, who get frightened and act belligerently. Some have been shot and killed in this manner. In Albuquerque 37 people have been shot since 2010, 23 fatally. Because in some cases the shootings were caught on video, the issue is coming to the fore, not only in New Mexico, but also in other states. Most often officers aren’t trained to handle mental illness, and in most cities they have no back up. Exceptions are few. In Los Angeles, for example, there is a specialized mental health unit and in New York the department has adopted its own form of a crisis intervention model.
A consensus is forming that the underlying problem is related to be the lack of adequate mental health care. Mental health ever since the 60’s has been a budget item that is often cut. According to the NIH, about 6%of the population (one in 17) suffer from a serious mental illness, and while studies show that only 4% of them are involved in violent crimes, when untreated severe mental illness can be associated with higher rate of violence. The director of policy and legal affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, compared our current practice to what it would it be like to stop treating heart disease until people had heart attacks, except that in mental health treatment is more difficult to begin once people reach a point of crisis.
Cutting budgets is sometimes necessary, we must however cut budgets intelligently, that is with awareness of the consequences, of what happens when these cuts are put into effect.