Law and Order: Officers on the Front Lines of Mental Health
(Dec. 9, 2013) Responding to a possible psychiatric crisis, police ended up shooting a Maryland woman last week, according to the Washington Post (“Hyattsville police officer shoots woman in the chest after a mental health call to her home,” Dec. 4).
Officers were trying to calm the woman when she produced a knife, the Post details. In light of the potential threat, an officer tried to subdue her with a Taser and then “fired one round from his weapon.”
Thankfully, the woman is recovering in a local hospital, but confrontations between police and individuals in psychiatric crisis often have even more tragic consequences. At the Treatment Advocacy Center we see stories like this all the time – one of the results of a system that diverts people with severe mental illness from receiving effective treatment and instead places them into the hands of law enforcement.
In Maryland, most of these officers are untrained to handle their roles as front-line mental health workers. Our study, “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States,“ found that only 31% of Maryland’s population is served by crisis intervention teams, units of police officers who are trained to respond more effectively to crises involving mental illness.
And Maryland has a mental health system that reserves treatment for those who are able to seek it voluntarily. It is one of only five states without an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law . At the same time, the standard for court-ordered inpatient treatment in a hospital is exceedingly high.
While the woman’s psychiatric diagnosis is unknown, what is known is that Maryland is consistently failing its population with mental illness. Unless the state modernizes its mental health laws and better trains its police officers to respond to people in the midst of a psychiatric crisis, we will continue to see stories like this.
- About Us
- Legal Resources
- Get Help