Friday, September 29, 2006

Reaction to police shootings ...

When a tragedy occurs involving a police officer and someone with mental illness, the general outcry is for more police training. Recent tragedies in Philadelphia, Chicago, and two in Oregon follow this pattern.

Everyone seems to accept that this is the way the world is – that people will get sicker and sicker, deteriorating into psychosis. That family members will be left with no choice but to call police. That police will arrive and be faced with someone in deep psychosis.

That seems to be where most people see the breakdown in the system. The letters to the editor, editorials, news articles, all call for police to be trained to better handle someone in psychosis.

There are places long before that point of confrontation with law enforcement where intervention would mean helping someone get back into treatment, keeping them from deteriorating in the first place, ensuring family members do not reach the point of fear, ensuring that confrontation never even happens.

By all means, train police officers. Just remember that this step is a safety net to prevent tragedy after all else fails. As Alan Orr, assistant police chief in Tiger, Oregon, said:
“There are cases where you could have a triple-Ph.D. in psychiatry, and you’re not going to get through to an individual.”
Early intervention through assisted outpatient treatment is a way to intervene before the downward spiral begins.

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