The Mental Health Minute

Articles and news about mental health issues

Phila. police sharpen ability to intervene nonlethally | Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/01/2009

I found the article below and read it with much interest.  Since it is becoming the norm that chronically mentally ill patients end up on the streets, it was refreshing to see a police department take the initiative to learn how better to deal with this population.

I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for a law officer to try to deal with a psychiatric patient who has been off medications and is blatantly psychotic.  As a psychiatric nurse, I know just how challenging those patients are and I am trained to deal with them.

Sadly, this change comes about after a fatality that most likely could have been avoided with proper interventions, but I will hope that something good could come out of such a tragedy.  Good for you, Philadelphia Police Department.  Now, could you convince all the other police departments out there across the USA to do the same?

Phila. police sharpen ability to intervene nonlethally
By Jennifer Lin
Inquirer Staff Writer

The police officers were hearing voices – confusing, rambling, aggressive, angry, mean voices – in their heads.For 45 minutes, they had to perform simple tasks while trying to ignore the cacophony piping into their ears from MP3 players.

Focusing was virtually impossible.

For the two dozen officers in a classroom at the Philadelphia Police Academy last week, the hearing-voices exercise was aimed at a better understanding of people with mental illness and how to interact with them.

Such training has long been needed. On that, police, advocates for the homeless, and behavioral-health experts agree.

Of the 13 people killed by police this year, six were presumed mentally ill – an unusually high number, said Joseph Rogers, chief of advocacy for the nonprofit Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

“What’s going on here?” he wondered.

While advocates acknowledge that police are making progress in training, they cite as troubling the July 3 shooting death of the homeless man originally identified as Morgan Mumford.

“The police have to be responsible for what they do,” said Sister Mary Scullion, cofounder of Project HOME, a nonprofit provider of services to homeless people. “A man with a box cutter who is clearly mentally ill shouldn’t be shot four times and killed.

“The officers were Thomas Fiorino, who works for the Center City Special Services District, and William Dorsch of the Ninth District. A police investigation of their actions remains open, pending a separate review by the District Attorney’s Office, said Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua of Internal Affairs.

An officer may use lethal force if threatened with injury or death, or if pursuing a fleeing felon. The same standard applies if the victim has a mental disability, legal experts explain.

Two weeks after the July 3 shooting, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey met with a coalition of city agencies, as well as with social-service nonprofits that assist police with “crisis intervention” training. He emphasized the importance of not casting blame and the need to work together in evaluating each police shooting. He also reiterated his commitment to the crisis-intervention training.

In 2007, the Police Department began bringing in mental-health professionals to train officers how to defuse potentially violent encounters with people who are mentally ill. About 475 have completed the five-day training, said Lt. Francis Healy, a lawyer who runs the program.

In the wake of the July shooting, Healy said, the department will offer crisis training to officers in all police divisions instead of just the East and Central Divisions, which have the largest homeless populations.

The department also has gotten grants to buy 1,000 more nonlethal Taser guns; it currently has 261. Healy said the guns would be issued first to crisis-training graduates assigned to Center City, the area with the most street homeless, many of them with mental illness.

Police, he added, are also testing another nonlethal weapon: shotguns that fire sandbag loads instead of lethal shot.In addition to examining the July 3 shooting, Healy said, the department will “reevaluate” the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the five other people with behavioral-health issues.

“We see the numbers,” he said, “and it concerns me, too.”However, the review must include not only law enforcement but also city agencies that serve people with mental disabilities, Healy said.

“We will go backward to see if there were any systemic failures,” he said.

Were the victims getting mental-health services from the city? Living in shelters? Discharged from hospitals? Helped by mental-health crisis centers or outreach teams?

The city’s Department of Behavioral Health/Mental Retardation Services “is on the same page as police,” said Arthur Evans, the director. “The goal is to figure out if there was something that could have been done that wasn’t.

“Contact staff writer Jennifer Lin at 215-854-5659 or

Phila. police sharpen ability to intervene nonlethally | Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/01/2009

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November 2, 2009 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , ,

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