“Therapists” With Guns (And Responsibility)
Jan. 6, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — In a fascinating post, Murray Newman offers a perspective on the inadequacy of police to handle confrontations with the mentally ill without leaving someone dead on the ground. He begins with the general absolution of police for not being willing to die for their paycheck.
A police officer’s job is a dangerous one. Other than that of a soldier’s, no other job description in the world holds the expectation that the employee face the potential of death whenever they clock in on the job.
Unlike the job of the soldier, however, almost every time a police officer takes a life in the course of his or her job, he immediately faces intense scrutiny and criticism for that decision. Sometimes that scrutiny and criticism is deserved. Other times it is not. Contrary to the belief of some, no police officer has the duty to die in the course of his or her job, if they have the opportunity to prevent it from happening.
While this raises the hoary reaction that cops fail to make the top ten most dangerous job, that’s not Murray’s point. Risk of harm, death, is part of the job description. It’s not a duty to die, but the potential, to which he speaks. This is why there is a First Rule of Policing, but not logging. And it is not only a fair point, but a very real one. No one wants to die on the job. To think otherwise is nuts.
And of the potentially dangerous aspects of law enforcement, dealing with the mentally ill is one of the most problematic because the mentally ill are, well, mentally ill.
Most articles on the topic of police shootings of people suffering from mental illness place the blame on a lack of training by the police. These types of articles are usually written from the perspective of a Monday Morning Quarterback who fails to take into account the volatility of a mentally ill individual and the speed in which these types of situations can escalate.
The resort to the “Monday Morning Quarterback” trope is unfortunate, as the only available options are to view conduct in retrospect or give it a pass entirely. Assuming that society isn’t prepared to let cops do whatever they please without accountability, then engaging in post hoc review is the only means by which the propriety of their action can be determined.
And lest anyone get too disgruntled about it, the law engages in “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” in essentially every instance. Whether it’s done well or poorly, fairly or not, is a different question. That it’s done after-the-fact is just how we roll, and that won’t change until someone invents a time machine.
Having explained that police enter into confrontations with the mentally ill carrying certain baggage, and that one reviews what transpired in a volatile interaction without, perhaps, the ability to see it through an officer’s eyes, Murray offers an alternative villain.
Rather than focusing on the idea that police officers mishandle encounters with the mentally ill, editor Rich Lowry stresses the point that the blame falls more on the mental health industry. Lowry uses the December 26, 2015 shooting deaths of Quintonio LeGrier and neighbor Bettie Jones by the Chicago Police Department as an example of police being called out to deal with mental health issues that should have been addressed much earlier and by more qualified personnel.
These shootings are another tragic symptom of our contemptible outsourcing of the severely mentally ill to law enforcement. The police are our de facto front-line mental-health workers – “armed social workers” in the pungent phrase of one observer – and jails are our de facto psychiatric-hospital system.
As Greg Prickett explained, police are not social workers. Police are not therapists. Police are guys with guns who demand compliance “or else.” The “or else” refers to whatever weapons they have on their belt and decide to deploy. Because they don’t want to die that day.
While there is no clear impediment as to why cops can’t be better trained as social workers, therapists, as well as guys with guns, under the assumption that they would not only prefer to survive their shift, but not kill someone whose “crime” is suffering from mental illness, this may be too far beyond their abilities to happen.
Or maybe they just don’t have the desire to work that hard so that a crazy can live when they can shoot, end the confrontation, be absolved of responsibility (because, you know, the guy was nuts, so…), and make it home in time to have a delicious and nutritious dinner with the family.
While Murray’s alternate villain is certainly worthy of scrutiny, the mental illness industry having failed to serve those in need of its services sufficiently well to keep them from being on the business end of a police officer’s gun, blame isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
This becomes particularly problematic as additional burdens are placed on mental health resources in the quest for gun control, to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill at all costs. An industry that can’t manage to fulfill its mission now is unlikely to do better as more demands are dumped on it.
Which means that it will be left to cops on the street to continue to play therapist with a gun.
The sad reality is that the issue of the violent mentally ill is a Catch-22 that may never be effectively resolved to the satisfaction of anyone.
Murray raises the bar quite high here. Satisfaction is hard to achieve. Everyone’s satisfaction is almost impossible. But that’s really not the question asked of the therapist with a gun. Since cops aren’t sufficiently interested in learning how to be better social workers, then the least we can demand of them is to stop killing the mentally ill because it’s the easiest, quickest and safest (for them) way to end the confrontation.
No one is asking them to die on the job. Just not kill someone for being mentally ill. Maybe you didn’t realize that being a therapist came with the shield, but you must have realized that your conduct would come under scrutiny every time you killed someone. Even if that someone was crazy.