Police Strife With Mentally Ill Could Grow During Budget Woes


Every day, police must deal with people who suffer from mental illness. The confrontations are unpredictable and potentially dangerous, and they are likely to occur more frequently in the future as budget cuts take their toll on mental health programs, police and medical specialists tell the Sacramento Bee. That might mean more use of deadly force by police against mentally ill people in crisis. “The police are under more pressure than ever today to deal with crises like this, and it’s only going to get worse,” said psychiatrist Brad Briercheck, who treats people with serious mental illnesses at The Effort in midtown Sacramento. “We are failing the patients, and also failing the police, because they aren’t really prepared to accommodate these clients.”

Officers in training typically get only a few hours of education on techniques for handling cases involving mentally ill suspects, said Mike Summers, a retired Sacramento police officer who organizes seminars for law enforcement. A case in Placerville, Ca., highlights the quick decisions officers must make when confronted with someone who is psychotic or delusional, and the sometimes-deadly consequences. Linda Clark, 39, who was in a hospital for psychiatric treatment, stole an ambulance and led officers on a slow chase through town before pulling over on a steep driveway. Moments later, she bashed police cruisers with her vehicle, then started to accelerate toward an officer standing in front of her. The officer, Nick Maurer, fired five times, killing her. The case touched off a heated debate about whether police used excessive force against an unarmed, disturbed woman.

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