Last week, John Montgomery, 29, was fatally wounded by sheriff’s deputies in Monrovia, In., in a scenario mental health advocates say is all too common when law enforcement officers deal with the mentally ill, says the Indianapolis Star. Law enforcement officers must resist the urge to wield weapons and must instead try to calm the situation, said Scott Cleveland of Indiana’s Mental Health Association. “I think you have to get people to understand that when you deal with a disease of the mind, you’re dealing with symptoms that include paranoia, exaggerated actions and impaired judgment,” Cleveland said. “The last thing, it seems to me, you want to do is go charging in John Wayne-style with Tasers or weapons drawn and try to drag them out.”
Many Indiana police officers lack adequate training to handle such encounters — a situation that has led to the use of deadly force against people who can’t control their actions, advocacy groups say. Situations involving mentally ill people cannot be handled the same, said Maj. Sam Cochran, coordinator of the crisis intervention team of the Memphis, Tenn., police department and a nationally known expert. Changes are under way in Indiana to reduce the number of deadly encounters. A law that takes effect July 1 requires that all new recruits receive six hours of training in dealing with the mentally ill, while in-service officers will receive two hours of training a year. Some police departments, including Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, have established crisis intervention teams of specially trained officers who can be called to help defuse tense situations with mentally ill people.