“Think Twice Before Calling the Cops on the Mentally Ill”

“Think Twice Before Calling the Cops on the Mentally Ill” May 17, 2015


A social worker who cares for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled has now contacted me to explain why he prefers that people avoid calling the police if at all possible when it comes to the sorts of disabled people for whom he cares. In fact, the danger of dialing 911 is something he emphasizes in all orientation sessions for new employees at the organization where he works. And when one of his organization’s charges becomes loud or disruptive in a public place, as inevitably happens on occasion, bystanders are actively encouraged not to call the police, too. …

…He concluded by observing that while he’s painfully aware of instances where police failures lead to the unnecessary deaths of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled, the police department in the small city where he works “is pretty good about doing the kind of community policing that gets their officers in contact with the people in the community that have developmental disabilities and mental illness,” and that they’ve “been generally slow to to use force and have often stood by while caretaker staff work to help people deescalate.” He’s even been in situations “where people I work with were brandishing weapons at people and police have stood by and allowed me space to talk them down.” It struck me that despite considering his local police force to be above average in this respect, he is still strongly averse to calling them for help if it is at all avoidable.


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