Archive for Sunday, September 3, 2006

Police train to work with mentally ill

September 3, 2006


The man hears voices, dozens of them.

But now, the voices he hears are those of an officer, giving him instructions: "You have to leave here. Now."

The man stands still.

To an onlooker, the man may seem disobedient, disgruntled, flatly ignoring an officer's orders. The officer must quickly decide: Is the man ignoring him, or is he battling mental illness - maybe an auditory hallucination - and can't help but not respond?

Police officers "expect and demand pretty rapid compliance," said Susan Crain Lewis, CEO of the Mental Health Association of the Heartland. "People who are in the midst of a psychiatric crisis aren't always able to do that."

Now the association - with help from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center - will give local law enforcement and corrections personnel the tools they need to better work with the mentally ill where they most often encounter them - on the streets and in jails or prisons.

The Sept. 21 training in Lawrence will last eight hours and instruct about 50 law enforcement officers from local police, sheriff departments and state and private prisons.

The training, Lewis said, is intended to show officers how to better interact with those who suffer mental illness, and where to look for community assistance to help keep them out of the criminal justice system.

For the second year now, the seminar is at full capacity, with every available seat reserved for police officers, corrections officers and others.

"We're over the top," Lewis said. "There is obviously a tremendous need."

For officers, the training will help to understand a segment of society that presents a different set of challenges, Lawrence Police Capt. David Cobb said.

"Officers want to fill the tool bag up with the best tools you can come up with," Cobb said.

On the street, officers need to know different ways to approach subjects, he said. There are people who don't want to be approached quickly, talked loudly to or touched.

Officers need to know how to recognize those signs, he said.

"It's a perishable skill like everything out there," Cobb said. "But at least you have something to fall back on."

And in Douglas County and area jails, where a segment of the area's mentally ill often find themselves, corrections officers need to know how to quickly recognize what illnesses an inmate may have - and how to direct them to help quickly when they get out, rather than have people wait weeks for mental health assistance.

Lt. Kari Wempe, a Douglas County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman and member of the Kansas Jail Assn., has helped conduct mental health training seminars here and in other small towns across the state.

The results so far, she said, have been positive.

"There's a patience level you need to have," Wempe explained. "We make sure they get the appropriate care."

Police training

The relationships between law enforcement and mental health providers in the area are already in place. Both the police and sheriff departments have contracts with Bert Nash to provide varying kinds of mental heath evaluations and training.

But the seminar is intended to give officers a wide overview of mental health symptoms, drugs and resources. In essence, Wempe said, it provides officers "tools" to use to ensure both a patient's rights and public safety.

Apparently, officers found tools they could use at last year's seminar.

According to data collected by the Midwest Health Association of the Heartland, at least 90 percent of officers statewide responding last year thought the training would help them in the field by providing new ideas and work habits when working with people suffering from mental illness.

Last year, 54 officers from the Lawrence area attended the training.

At the seminar, Bert Nash staff will explain how officers should handle involuntary commitment - taking a mentally ill patient into custody if they appear dangerous to themselves or others.

State law permits the practice, instructing officers to take the patient to a local treatment facility for examination.


Officers typically use Bert Nash or Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where the patients or prisoners are screened for mental health issues and to see how dangerous they may actually be, said Eunice Ruttinger, director of adult services at Bert Nash.

If they can't be admitted, state law dictates the treatment facility find them a place to stay - provided it's not a prison cell or another criminal detention facility.

"They are very careful," Ruttinger said. "There are civil rights involved for people."

But these rules only apply if a person appears dangerous and hasn't committed a major crime.

"Some who commit a dangerous, felonious act while in their mental state have to go to jail," Wempe said. "We don't have a choice with that."

If not dangerous, they can get arrested and booked into jail like anyone else, Lewis said - typically for lesser crimes such as disturbing the peace or vagrancy.

This year, the majority of those planning to attend the seminar come from either county sheriff departments who operate jails or from nearby state and private prisons, Lewis said.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows that the rate of mental illness in state prisons and jails in the United States, 16 percent, is more than three times the rate in the general population - only 5 percent.

Of those with mental illness in state and federal prisons, nearly half are there for committing a nonviolent crime, the report shows.

Mental illness rate

Officials from the Douglas County Jail reported previously that at any given time, 15 percent of the jail's 192 beds are filled by people suffering mental illness. The national average is close to 30 percent.

In April, Douglas County Jail staff and Bert Nash officials convened the first meeting of a re-entry committee to help put mentally ill inmates in contact with mental health professionals as quickly as possible.

At the meeting, officials shaped a new plan that would see released inmates dropped off at Bert Nash rather than the Law Enforcement Center at 11th and Massachusetts streets, assessing inmates while they are in jail and ensuring access to any needed medications upon release.


classclown 11 years, 9 months ago

"Now the association - with help from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center - will give local law enforcement and corrections personnel the tools they need to better work with the mentally ill where they most often encounter them - on the streets and in jails or prisons."


Does that mean the cops will now be carrying nerf batons and thorazine?

adky 11 years, 9 months ago

I've witnessed LPD "working" with the mentally ill. I only wish I'd had my camera with me. It would have been a good tool for demonstrating how not to deal with these people.

I doubt many of the boneheads at LPD will benefit from this training, but let's hope.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 9 months ago

Training the police to deal with the mentally ill?????? What a joke! Lets deal with the first problem, lets weed out the thugs and bullies-behind-the-badge. Lets get a police chief who knows how to respond to the citizenry. Lets get a city commission who recognizes their responsibility to the community to remove a police chief who is reputed to have very destructive personal habits. How about starting with the real problems first. This commission is totally clueless how to deal with the LPD. They propose a citizens watchdog group, but do nothing. They are "afraid of interfereing with the police" INTERFERE ALREADY!!!! How many more have to die???? The community is in mortal danger, as has been already proven. These thugs act with impunity. They haven't a clue as to personal constitutional rights, they act on their own desire for gold stars on their evaluation reports from a chief that is staring through a stupor fog. Training isn't the answer. You cannot get a dragon to jump through some silly hoop in hopes that he will reform. You need to clean the mess out thoroughly starting at the top. Are you listening Mike, Boog, Mike, David and others?? I doubt it.

reginafliangie 11 years, 9 months ago

It's still going to be a guessing game for officers. Who is acting really insane or who is just doped up and acting like a jerk? Can't drug test them on the streets. Some people may act that way to get out of being arrested.

frwent: what deaths??

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 9 months ago

Greg Sevier. Killed by LPD officers who did not know how to handle a mentally-ill person. Where have you been the last 20 years????

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for your comments Smitty, it seems that the entrenched and embattled LPD and their unresponsive chief never seem to get much attention that roundabouts do. It is a real tragedy, my experience with these wonks is very frustrating. Hopefully someone will come along and clean house with this den of wolves soon. Before someone else gets killed and before someone else who is innocent is framed by the "expert" officers who are allowed to violate our constitutional rights at will with impunity.

doc1 11 years, 9 months ago

frwent wrote: Greg Sevier. Killed by LPD officers who did not know how to handle a mentally-ill person.

He was killed because he charged at Officers with a knife. I would have shot him too.

dthroat 11 years, 9 months ago

frwent - Just because your son plead guilty to a crime WITH THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY, does not make you an expert on the failings of the LPD. Some people on this board bring up VALID critisims of the LPD, but I have come to discount almost anything you have to say about them.

And Smitty is just a hopeless case where everything revolves around Sevier (even though there is no proof).

carolannfugate 11 years, 9 months ago

Posted by doc1 (anonymous) on September 3, 2006 at 7:37 p.m. (Suggest removal)

frwent wrote: Greg Sevier. Killed by LPD officers who did not know how to handle a mentally-ill person.

He was killed because he charged at Officers with a knife. I would have shot him too

And the Police were called because he was suicidal and had mental health issues.

Rhoen 11 years, 9 months ago

Bert Nash and LMH should step up at some point to relieve the police and sheriff's departments of the ongoing (and growing) responsibility of handling Lawrence / Douglas County mentally ill.

Regardless of police / sheriff's department shortcomings in this area, the ongoing failure of LMH and Bert Nash to be of any real use in areas that are their major responsibilities is a travesty.

Citizens' going along with the move to push this issue even further into the arena of law enforcement responsibility gives LMH and Bert Nash a big thumbs' up to continue to be pretty much useless where mental health crisis-management is concerned.

sourpuss 11 years, 9 months ago

I have nothing to add here except that I misread the headline as "Police train (noun) to work (fut. infinitive) with mentally ill" and so I was thinking, "What is a police train anyway? How would it possibly work with the mentally ill? Trains are fun, but not exactly a cure for depression. Does this have something to do with the 100 year old depot?"

It's late.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 9 months ago

dthroat, I have WRITTEN PROOFof the statements I have made re the local gestapo, in THEIR OWN REPORTS their admissions of failure to respect the constitutional rights. It is being filed with the appropriate agencies for investigation. Stay tuned.

Rhoen 11 years, 9 months ago

... and the people who are personally denigrating other posters on this topic while trivializing the death of a teenager in his own bedroom in the sight of his parents have apparently found a way to numb themselves to the suffering around them ...

And that's sad.

Kelly Powell 11 years, 9 months ago

The lawrence cops are huggable teddy bears compared to other towns.....

linus 11 years, 9 months ago

I would think that everyone would benefit from any and all training law enforcement can get pertaining to the mentally ill so that nothing like the Sevier case happens again. Their assistance in such matters is very important...but I believe Rhoen said it best: LMH and (especially) Bert Nash need to step up to the plate!!! And I will repeat: ESPECIALLY BERT NASH!!! I would be willing to guess that their presence in Lawrence has assisted with the mentally ill populace we have acquired. SO, as the movie says "If we build it, they will come"...well, they've come now do something about it!!!

Fred Whitehead Jr. 11 years, 9 months ago

dthroat, let me assure you, you do not know who I am nor do you know anything about me. You seem to think this. My statements are backed by proof. And I do not have to prove it to you or Pilgrim or anyone else on this board.

as_I_live_and_breathe 11 years, 9 months ago

Posted by sourpuss (anonymous) on September 3, 2006 at 10:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I have nothing to add here except that I misread the headline as "Police train (noun) to work (fut. infinitive) with mentally ill"

LOL And I thought they had lowered the standards for local police and were going to start hiring the handicapped.

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