Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Here is something REALLY frightening.

Law enforcement officers, forced for too many years to be de facto front-line mental health workers, are being charged with managing people with mental illnesses … by the mental health community.

It is spooky to hear mental health providers so fully divest themselves of responsibility for the sickest citizens, expecting law enforcement to pick up the slack. After James Chasse died in a terrible tragedy, the reaction of the mental health community hasn’t been to look inward at their role in averting the deadly encounter, but to gather in force to demand action from law enforcement.

Beckie Child of the Mental Health Association of Oregon said delegates to a mental health conference held in Portland last week signed a petition pressing the mayor to commit to training all cops in crisis intervention, and to do so within six months.
James Chasse did not deserve to die in an encounter with police, and it is important that everyone keep the pressure on law enforcement to examine actions, policies, and procedures that may have contributed to his death.

The difference is, the police seem to KNOW they have to step up. They are working on increasing CIT training and assessing their behavior. They are actually acting to make things better, even as they remind us that the problem begins … and should be handled … long before someone ends up in an encounter with an officer.

Robert King, president of the Portland Police Association, said Monday that while the union supports any increased training, "it would of course not changed the encounter with Mr. Chasse. Until our community gets serious about helping the mentally ill, it won't matter how much training we have."
The issue in Oregon is twofold – the deadly encounter and the years of neglect that led up to it. The more the mental health community can keep the focus on the encounter that cost Mr. Chasse his life, the less they have to face the very scary truth – it is the long-term failure of the mental health system that led to this tragedy in the first place.

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