It is unacceptable that people who are suffering from and struggling with mental health issues in their life be at risk of injury, trauma, assault or even death in their interactions with police officers whose only training as "being a good police officer" leads them to a course of action that produces tragedy. There is ample evidence that CIT training (Crisis Intervention Training) makes a difference. The "Memphis Model" has made an impact in many communities both large and small. Tragedies may continue to happen, but to expect and accept them as the cost of doing business as normal is simply and deeply wrong.
A few days ago I talked with a man whose 39-year-old "mentally ill" son had been attacked, beaten up and tasered by police in this community who "were doing their job." Over the last few days I have spent a lot of time thinking about other incidents I either have direct knowledge of or I have heard about. And it has left me deeply troubled.
There are lots of people to blame and many people seem intent on solving the problem by trying to figure out who to blame. I hear people talk about needing more psychiatric hospitals, more coercive treatment options etc. I dont think there are really going to be an appreciable increase in psychiatric beds regardless of where you stand on the argument, rather you think it is a good idea or not. Financially it simply not an option. Arguments that vastly increasing AOT (assisted outpatient treatment) can solve the problem are not honest or realistic.
Someone will be the next Kelly Thomas. Someone will be the next person a police officer faces on the street corner or in their home or in the jail. It is happening right now. It will be happening in a few minutes. It will be happening tomorrow. And what stops it from being someone you know, someone you care about, or even you.
It is pointless to bemoan the fact that police are being asked to do things they are not trained to do and then do absolutely nothing about providing them that training. It is as unfair to the officer who is trying to do the best he can as it is to the person he is trying to deal with.
As far as I know the decision to implement CIT training is a local decision and depends very much on the financial resources of that community as well as the commitment to training that local officials may have. Many communities, like the one I live in, have gotten officers involved in a piecemeal fashion but they are largely at the mercy of who offers the training and when.
Again, no one should be the victim of where they live. I have been following in recent days the effort of New York state to deal with the same issue. The proposal that is currently being fought over is whether or not to include in the state budget funds for what they are calling a "center of excellence for CIT training." The idea, as I understand it, is for the state to establish a resource that could help communities access CIT training in a way they can afford and in a way that is most effective to them. It shifts the burden of the argument from "is it practical? Can we afford to do it?" to "Can we afford to not do it?"
It is too late for anything like that to happen in Tennessee this year, but is not to late to start the conversation. Several other states already have chosen to establish something like "a center of excellence for CIT." Some have found access to federal funding. Others have found grants from other sources.
In the end, it not only saves lives but also saves money because of the injuries and traumas it prevents.
A couple of days I had a post which included a video of the beating of Kelly Thomas. I made myself watch the video several days before the post and was horrified. If you havent watched the video and still doubt the importance of what I am talking about watch the video yourself. I have also seen videos of other beatings from virtually all over the country. It is more than a Tennessee problem but it is a Tennessee problem.
In the days and weeks that follow I will be revisiting this conversation over and over. I am by no means anywhere close to an expert. If you think you know more than me on the subject there is a good chance you are correct. My goal is to start a conversation, a widespread conversation, in Tennessee that prepares the ground to talk about this issue not as one that affects isolated localities but every person in this state.
It is a conversation I hope you will join.
Larry Drain, hope works community blog