Memphis police look to help, not lock up, mentally ill
A crisis intervention team designed to recognize mental health problems is part of the Memphis Police Department
June 8, 1999
Web posted at: 4:37 p.m. EDT (2037 GMT)
MEMPHIS, Tennessee (CNN) -- What used to frighten some Memphis police officers has become routine -- a call to deal with a mentally ill person.
"It scared the dickens out of me," said Officer Doreen
Now, Shelton is a member of a crisis intervention team,
specifically trained to recognize and address the needs of
people who may disturb the peace because of mental illness,
not criminal inclinations.
"Consumers," said Shelton, referring to such persons, "have
rights just like everyone else. We're not here to violate
their rights. We're here to help them."
Despite research that police arrest 20 percent of such people
before they receive treatment, specially trained law
enforcement units like the one in Memphis are rare.
"If you don't have appropriate access to treatment and
services, the only option that most law enforcement officers
have on most situations is the county jail," said Lt. Sam
Cochran of the Memphis police.
A White House conference on mental illness, held Monday,
recognized the Memphis program as an effective way to reduce the growing number of mentally ill caught up in the criminal
'Many can only find help in jails'
Jail traditionally has been the only option for some facing mental health problems
"It is appalling to think that many people who are mentally
ill, not only juveniles, but others, can only find help in
jails by being arrested," said Tipper Gore, a longtime mental
health advocate and wife of Vice President Al Gore.
Mental illness is "the last great stigma of the 20th
century," said Gore, who has acknowledged years of
her own depression.
The Memphis program came into existence only after
the death of a mentally ill person in custody. Since then, the cooperation of mental health workers, advocates, police and city officials help make it work. That and a special
psychiatric emergency room, where police know people will
receive appropriate treatment.
"If the officers don't have confidence in that, then they're
not going to bring them in for treatment," said Randolph
DuPont, a psychiatry professor at the University of
Tennessee. "They will look for more restrictive alternatives,
Without this kind of program, advocates for the mentally ill say, communities spend any savings in cutbacks on mental health on added costs in the criminal justice system.
"Someone is paying, and it is shortsighted to think that you
can do it by not giving them good treatment," said Turner
Hopkins of the Memphis Alliance for Mentally Ill.
About 50 million Americans are estimated to suffer some form
of mental illness during their lives, but only one in five
Medical Correspondent Eileen O'Connor contributed to this report.
White House conference targets attitudes toward mental illnes
June 7, 1999
Longtime mental health advocate Tipper Gore takes centerstage
June 7, 1999
Clinton issues new employment standards for mentally disabled
June 4, 1999
Chat transcript: U.S. surgeon general on mental health
June 8, 1999
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
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