POLICE RESPONSE TO THE MENTALLY ILL
By Jim Heitmeyer
One-quarter of all Americans met the criteria for having a mental illness
problem within the past year, and fully over a quarter of those had a "serious"
disorder that significantly disrupted their ability to function day to day,
according to the largest and most detailed survey of the nation's mental health,
published in 2007. Mental illness is a growing problem throughout the world.
enforcement agencies are often called to check out a report on somebody with a
possible psychosis or other symptoms of mental behavior.
Most calls are
responded to by local police officers. When responding to a call, the officer
must examine the persons actions and try to find out any known history of the
subject they are dealing with.
must be answered first. Most important, does it appear that I need an immediate
back-up or other assistance? Is the subject acting out violently? Does the
person appear threatening in his or her actions and behavior? Has the person
made any verbal threats toward self, family, friends, police or anyone else? Is
there a weapon on the person or in the residence?
These are just a
few questions that must be answered before the police officer can take any
actions in finding help for someone diagnosed having a mental illness. The main
thing to remember here is to handcuff the suspect or person for your own safety
and to conduct any interview with the person while they are seated in your
cruisers back seat. This procedure will keep the subject from moving around on
you, or keep them from running away from you and so forth.
Remember that all
people with mental problems are not necessarily going to act out their ill
behavior and may appear to be normal as anyone else. People with mental problems
can be cunning and still know what is going on around them, never insult or
underestimate their intelligence.
Some of the most
common symptoms that may be present when investigating a report about somebody
are the following;
- Schizophrenia - People
diagnosed with schizophrenia usually experience a combination of positive
signs ( hallucinations, delusions, racing thoughts), negative signs (apathy,
lack of emotion, poor or non existent social functioning), and cognitive signs
(disorganized thoughts, difficulty concentrating and /or following
instructions, difficulty completing tasks, memory problems). However, only a
psychiatrist can make a diagnosis and start a treatment program.
Hallucinations, or acting them out
Thoughts of grand dour
May be intoxicated or under the influence of drugs or other heavy
Inability in completing tasks
Isolation from others
or temper flares without any apparent reason
Extreme mood changes
These are just a
few of the most common symptoms a person may have when dealing with them. In
every scenario, the officer must be alert for unpredictable behavior or
potential violence. Some points to remember when making contact with a person
with potential mental problems.
- Try to find out as much
history or information you can about the person you are dealing with.
- Attempt to contact family
members or friends.
- Appear calm and friendly
- Talk calmly and softly
- Most people are afraid
- Try not to make any quick
- Try not to make too much eye
- Ask them their name
- Ask them if they want help
- Never lie to the person
Ask the subject if they can help
you in doing your job .
(Example) "sir, could you
help me out here by turning around and sticking your arms out for me, I have to
do this, I have to handcuff you because my agency requires it and hope that you
understand". Make the person think it is their idea when suggesting something.
Be sure to tell them something like this, "I just want you to know that I am
here to help you"
person with mental problems can become physically strong for any one officer to
handle, should they become violent. In most encounters, these people will go
willingly and peaceful with you once they believe you are no threat to them.
Every law enforcement agency and officer should check with their state and city
laws, agencys policies and procedures when handling mentally ill people. Some
states require extensive training for their officers in handling mentally ill
people, and the laws as related. Some states require a third-party affidavit and
a witness statement before a person with mental problems can be transported and
taken off the streets and taken to an institution or crisis institute for care
In most cases,
agencies have a program set up for mental health calls. The officers assigned
are called to a situation and are already trained.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Heitmeyer was born in Phoenix, Arizona and raised in
Paradise Valley. Jim joined the United States Marine Corps and completed his
service to our country. Jim later joined the Oklahoma Army National Guards 745
Military Police Company. Jim served during the Just Cause war in Panama and
Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm. Jim Heitmeyer attained the rank of
Jim Hietmeyer is a retired lieutenant from the Oklahoma
County Sheriff's Office (Oklahoma). After his retirement from the Oklahoma
County Sheriffs Office he worked as a police officer for the Arcadia Police
Department from 2001 through 2004. During his career, he worked as a jailer,
deputy sheriff, CLEET instructor, American Red Cross Instructor, and biohazards
instructor. He is the author of two books under the pen name of Jim Daly:
Lockdown Madness and Behind Steel Doors.