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Are police trained to deal with the mentally ill?

Published: 
Wednesday, April 25, 2018

There are those in authority who have said that police are trained to treat with the mentally ill and there are also those in authority who assure us that police are not trained to deal with those presenting with acute mental ill health.

They may both be right depending on where you stand. What to your mind, for example, does being “trained to treat with the mentally ill” entail? We know police can train guns on the mentally ill, as they have been known to do, but what training is that based on? What directives are given to officers and what modes have they been trained to employ to subdue those in distress before the “shoot-to-kill” instruction?

I even venture to ask, “What in the belief system about the mentally ill makes a police officer shoot a person, not to maim or subdue—like on the leg—but determinedly to kill?

Looking at the research, the expert consensus in many jurisdictions and countries with seemingly better policing than ours is that “officers often lack the training to approach the mentally unstable”.

A 2008 study says, “Police officers report such situations as problematic because persons with mental illness may not respond well to traditional police tactics (Engel, Sobol, & Worden,2000).”

But it seems here, as in many other places where we have regular shooting to death of the mentally ill by law enforcement, all police seem to employ is “traditional tactics” in situations where they are treating with the mentally ill who do not process thoughts and behaviour in any “traditional” manner.

Lack of competence

Police display lack of competence, compassion was this column’s headline when they killed Paul Marchan (http://www.guardian.co.tt/lifestyle/2017-03-29/police-display-lack-compe...)

Marchan, 30, was shot dead on March 16, 2017, by officers of the Western Division Task Force who responded to reports he was acting in a deranged manner.

The news story then said, “Marchan went to a relative’s Diego Martin home and was hurling objects. When the police arrived, he allegedly doused himself in a flammable liquid and locked himself in his car. When the officers finally got him out the car, he allegedly slashed one of the officers on his hand with a piece of broken bottle and stabbed the other with a knife.

The report said that when Task Force officers arrived Marchan reportedly charged towards them with the knife and they shot him twice.

On April 1, 2017, according to reports, Raymond Joseph, 51, of Mahaica Road, Point Fortin, was shot and killed by municipal officers inside the Point Fortin Area Hospital after he was allegedly behaving violently and grabbing an officer’s gun.

Joseph allegedly grabbed the gun of the municipal police officer who had assisted in taking him to the Area Hospital. Relatives of Joseph, a retired soldier, had sought the police’s help to take him to the hospital for treatment. He allegedly began acting violently at his home and relatives sought help from officers.

He was shot three times.

The final story highlighted today, mercifully ended with the “assailant” being hospitalised.

On Saturday, November 25, 2017, the headline read, Police shoot man after roadside rage and told of the story of a man suspected of being mentally ill who picked up a two-year-old boy and shook him “like a stuffed toy” along the Tarouba Road, San Fernando.

Police said that around 8 am, the suspect walked up to a doubles van at the top of the Tarouba Interchange, where the boy was standing with his mother from where he grabbed the child.

Police reported that it took several minutes after the suspect was shot for him to lose enough energy for them to detain him, so severe was his tantrum.

The Guardian news story reported that, “The suspect asked for water, but before he could be given, he smashed the glass case holding the doubles. As patrons stood in shock, the man picked up the boy and choked him, while saying ‘This is a robot’. A woman pulled the boy away and ran.”

A fruit vendor who witnessed the incident, alerted two officers who were on traffic duty. The suspect began biting Dulan’s fruits and throwing them on the roadside before capsizing the stall.

The story said, “As WPC Mahabir approached the suspect, he picked up a piece of wood and struck her in the head. But as the man advanced towards Mahabir’s colleague, the officer shot the suspect twice in his leg. This did not stop him as he took up and a piece of wood and banged it against the police vehicle.”

The officer was treated and discharged. The man was hospitalised.

– Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI). Write to: [email protected]

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