September 10, 2020 Chris Parker Youmans Guest Writer. The Journal of Public Law is very grateful for this informative and stimulating contribution.
I have worked in the mental health field, and I’ve spoken with hundreds of police officers during NAMI trainings designed to help them understand what to do when someone is in crisis. I can tell you why cops shoot people; and it’s not because they want to hurt anyone.
POLICE OFFICERS SHOOT PEOPLE BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE TRAINED TO DO. That is what they are trained to do when they fool like the situation is out of their control. The gun gives them control.
Dealing with folks who are having a mental health crisis is not about establishing control. it’s about establishing trust. It’s about listening to them , it’s about communication, it’s about taking time to understand the situation. Most cops don’t have the time or the training to concern themselves with any of these things.
Police officers are trained to deal with criminals. They are looking for criminal behavior, expecting criminal behavior, and responding to criminal behavior. That’s their job.
Anyone who is in the midst of a mental health issue is not a criminal. Even the justice system makes allowances for “insanity’, lack of control over their their emotional reactions is the most basic definition of ‘crisis.” Police officers are not trained to deal with these situations.
The most logical way to ensure that cops stop killing people is to stop calling them to get involved. STOP CALLING THE POLICE in situations where no crime is being committed, and call someone who is TRAINED TO HELP.
Who can you call for help with someone in crisis? In the United States there are not many options. In Georgia you can ask to speak to an officer who has been through specific mental health training, but there is no guarantee. And a few days’ training cannot compete with years of experience in dealing with criminals.
So what’s the solution? Can we create something that will handle mental health crises as medical situations instead of crimes? Can we offer treatment instead of incarceration? Can we stop asking the police to handle situations that they are not trained to deal with?
Until we do something different, the police will continue to do what they are trained to do, and we will continue to see people who are dealing with mental health issues suffer and die. We will continue to see shootings and deaths at the hands of cops who are given little guidance and even less support on how to approach these situations.
MENTAL HEALTH IS A MEDICAL ISSUE, NOT A CRIME. Let’s stop asking law enforcement to deal with it, and find a better solution.