DEADLY police force often directed towards individuals with mental health issues 12/12/2012Posted by ALT in Mental Health News, Mental Health Policy and Inititatives.
Tags: I-Ward, Kelly Thomas, mental health, Michael Cornwall, police force, police shooting, violence
The Portland Press Herald [Maine] has exhibited exemplary journalistic skill and integrity (rare, these days) by publishing an extensive report on police shootings of individuals with mental health issues. The focus is, of course, on Maine:
In Maine, 42% of people shot by police since 2000 – and 58% of those who died from their injuries – had mental health problems. The Maine Attorney General’s Office, which investigates all police shootings, has never found one to be unjustified. The office doesn’t ask whether violence could have been avoided.
But the national statistic they published shocked me, too:
About half of the estimated 375-500 people shot and killed by police each year have mental health issues. In many cases, the officers knew from the start that the subjects were unstable.
Thinking back over the past few years, I can remember a few specific incidents nationally where police murdered – there’s really no other word for it – an individual who could NOT reasonably be believed to possess even the means (let alone the intention) to use deadly force against the officers in question.
The Press Herald report documents an astonishing number of stories from Maine as well (click here to peruse the database of incidents and Attorney General’s reports compiled by the reporters). Many of these stories are complicated; there’s a lot of pain and desolation here. A fair amount of misunderstanding, fear, and police aggression as well.
One of the main points of the series is that reform is needed…
1. a more rigorous system for official review of the use of deadly force (that actually includes consideration of administrative/disciplinary action and asks the question: “could the use of deadly force been avoided?”)
2. better training for officers in dealing with crisis situations, so that the use of deadly force can be avoided.
I find myself thinking of Michael Cornwall’s recommendations for using a heart-centered approach to individuals in extreme emotional distress.
Michael not only has his own personal experience of distress to draw on, but also years of working with individuals in these states (several of those years taking place in the medication and diagnosis-free sanctuary for the treatment of first-break psychosis, I-Ward) to inform this wise approach:
Aggression, rage, and other extreme out-pourings of energy — sometimes taking the form of physical force — were not uncommon on I-Ward, according to Michael. But the staff was dedicated to a.) using a heart-centered approach to address these challenges and b.) not involving the police. What happened most frequently was that the emotions were discharged (often, the staff would use what Michael calls a “loving embrace” to hold the person in the throes of such emotion) and then staff took the opportunity to process what happened with the individuals involved.
We used no restraints [on I-Ward] and every time after long periods of wild raging people would wind down and end up cuddling into the sometimes 2 or 3 staff needed to hold them. They would then softly start to cry and sometimes sob in a deep regrression of safely being held by strong and loving parental figures.
-Michael Cornwall, in a description of I-Ward
The contrast between the heart-centered approach and the gun-centered approach is clear. Can we, as a people, a community, a society, choose the path that leads towards a life preserved, healing begun?
I hope we can.