As community mental health systems suffer budget cuts, law enforcement officers increasingly are having to step in to provide the emergency services that clinics have typically offered the mentally ill, reports the New York Times. Police and sheriff's departments already grappling with budget and manpower cuts say the situation is straining their resources and forcing them to divert officers from their regular duties. It has stoked fears among law enforcement officers of dangerous encounters between the police and people with severe mental illness.
“I worry that there's going to be a tragedy,” said police chief James Craig in Portland, Me., where calls involving the mentally ill increased to 1,645 in 2009 from 1,424 in 2007. “I'm worried that an officer might lose his life dealing with a dangerous person, a person who really needs treatment.” Laura Usher of the National Alliance on Mental Illness said, “A lot of people view calling the police as the only way to get loved ones any kind of treatment, because when the police come they have to do something. But unfortunately that doesn't necessarily always lead to appropriate treatment. States across the country are cutting their mental health budgets, and people who are serviced by state mental health programs are the poorest, and they're unable to get services any other way. The community mental health system is broken.”