Loretta Cerbelli lost her son Kevin when the delusional 30-year-old walked into a police station in Queens, N.Y., and stabbed an officer; police shot him to death. Sue Nickerson lost her son, a police officer in Centreville, Md., when he answered a call about a disturbance in a trailer park and was shot and killed by a mentally ill man.
Cerbelli and Nickerson are fighting for a common cause are campaigning for better tracking and treatment of the mentally ill and more training for police officers who deal with them, reprots the Christian Science Monitor. Police should be able to defuse situtations involving the mentally ill, says Nickerson.
Susan Rogers of Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania says, “Police officers don’t want to kill the mentally ill. They are responding out of fear.”
Such shootings occur with a frequency that alarms advocates of the mentally ill. More mentally ill people are on the streets than ever before – 500,000 more today than there were in the 1960s, when it was easier to commit them to institutions, says James Fyfe, deputy training commissioner of the New York Police Department. NYPD dispatchers take a call from an emotionally disturbed person (EDP) every 7.3 minutes.
Some large cities have trained officers to deal with the mentally ill and work in collaboration with mental health agencies, a model pioneered in Memphis. About 225 out of 1,000 Memphis police officers have undergone 40 hours of training. When these officers arrive on a scene involving a mentally ill individual, they are in charge, regardless of rank.
That model has been adopted in Houston and Portland, Ore., and is lauded by many advocates. Fyfe of New York City says it wouldn’t be appropriate in his city, where the police have 150,000 dealings with the mentally ill a year, compared with 18,000 in Memphis. Rather than train a special squad, “it is much more important to raise the level of expertise of first responders,” Fyfe says.
The NYPD added two chapters on dealing with the mentally ill to the textbook for new recruits and added extensive role-playing exercises to its training. “In 2002, we shot four EDPs of 150,000 calls,” he says. In two of those cases, the person shot had first stabbed an officer, he said. “Find me a profession with better professional performance.”