With the mental-health industry essentially abdicating when it comes to the severely mentally ill who refuse treatment or are too sick to realize they need it, the responsibility of the police is increasingly to protect, serve — and deal with desperately ill, irrational people. In 2013, the Arizona Daily Star reported that police in Tucson received “more calls about mental illness than about burglaries or stolen cars.”
Yes, police should be better trained in how to try to de-escalate. But there always will be legitimate danger in these incidents — cops can, and do, get killed. The Post analysis “found that about nine in 10 of the mentally troubled people killed by police were armed, usually with guns, but also with knives or other sharp objects.”
A more rational and humane policy would give families robust treatment options before it gets to the point of calling the cops. This would mean more psychiatric hospital beds and more options for mandated care. Representative Tim Murphy (R., Pa.) has a bill to push the mental-health system in this direction. The alternative is to continue to default to police to cope with out-of-control people, often brandishing weapons, and hope for the best — and brace for the worst.