AFRICANGLOBE – On Saturday, a Dallas woman called 911 for assistance with her 39-year-old schizophrenic son, hoping that a specialized mental health team might take him to the hospital, according to a local NBC affiliate. Instead, two police officers showed up and shot Jason Harrison dead when he came out of the house. He was holding a screw driver.
“I just really wish that he could have got the help that we really have been trying to get for him so that maybe it could have had a different outcome,” Harrison’s brother told a local news source. “We’ll never know.”
Deadly police encounters with people suffering from mental illness are horrifically common. Although there is no comprehensive, nationwide data, the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff’s Association estimate that at least half the people killed by police each year have mental health problems.
Experts point to two reasons confrontations between mentally ill people and police often turn violent: a lack of adequate police training and the fact that the initial handling of people suffering from mental illness falls to police at all.
Thanks to cuts in services, many mentally ill people lack access to the help they need. In an interview in The New York Times, psychiatrist Dr. E. Fuller Torrey calls police “the first line of contact” for people who are really in need of a mental health crisis center. Needless to say, most cops are not trained mental health professionals and as Douglas County Police Capt. Attila Denes said that standard police tactics aren’t suited for encounters with mentally ill people.
“Traditional law enforcement tactics are rooted in logic, in reasoning – and in issuing commands for someone to comply so that we can make the situation safe right now by taking a person into custody,” said Attila Denes. “But barking orders at a person with serious mental illness doesn’t work.”
Deploying police to deal with the mentally ill does fill up prisons though. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, 10 times more mentally ill Americans are imprisoned than are being treated in state psychiatric hospitals.
By: Tana Ganeva