Stanislaus County law enforcement and mental health officials pledged Thursday night to work together to reduce the number of arrests of people suffering from mental illness by linking them with treatment.
Through law enforcement training, treating jail inmates and intervention in the criminal justice system, the officials said, they can reduce the chance of police having to use force against a mentally ill person.
That risk became a reality in the past year. Deputies used force last April to subdue a mentally ill jail inmate. He later died. In another incident, officers in December were forced to shoot and kill a woman with paranoid schizophrenia. She was running toward them carrying a meat cleaver at an elementary school.
Deputy District Attorney Jared Carrillo said many people who are incarcerated are there at least partly because they suffer from mental illness. He said the key is putting effort into treatment rather than incarceration.
"The ultimate goal is to stop that revolving door," Carrillo said.
The panel discussion on mental illness was sponsored by the Modesto-Stanislaus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Nearly 100 people attended the event at the King-Kennedy Memorial Center.
Cross-training with clinicians
About five years ago, Modesto police officers and mental health clinicians began cross-training to learn each other's job and better respond to incidents caused by a mentally ill person, said Modesto Police Lt. Chris Fuzie.
Law enforcement officials also started participating in Critical Incident Training provided by Stanislaus County Behavioral Health Services. The training is designed to teach officers and deputies how to deal with people who are continuously coming in contact with law enforcement.
The training, however, can't be used once a mentally ill person becomes violent toward someone else, so it's important to prevent the situation from getting to that point, Fuzie said.
"This is not the time to talk," he said about use-of-force incidents. "This is not a time to see how you're feeling. This is a time for action."
The training was based on the understanding that enforcement and incarceration can't resolve mental illness, said Debra Buckles of behavioral health services.
The 40-hour training includes presentations on such issues as suicide-by-cop, suicide risk management and emotional disturbances of children. The training includes presentations by mentally ill people and their families.
"All (officers and deputies) get to see is the ugliness of illness," Buckles said. "This way they get to see the other side of it."
Carrillo spoke of the Mental Health Treatment Court, an effort to identify defendants who constantly find themselves in the criminal justice system. Instead of prosecuting and incarcerating the defendants, they are placed in a three-year program that connects them with treatment services.
He said their hope is to reduce the number of times the person comes in contact with law enforcement officials, "and hopefully avoid that use-of-force scenario, if they can."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.