Addressing mental health

While mental health treatment and support are primarily state and federal issues (in terms of funding), city government can address a vital link in dealing with mental health issues via our police department. About 10 percent of police calls concern situations triggered by mental health issues. That means that officers trained in dealing with such matters are far more likely to facilitate a happy outcome to the problems.

Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan, in cooperation with Asheville Buncombe Technical College and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), has created a 40 hour training course which teaches officers about mental illness and ways to deal with folks so afflicted. Lt. Ross Dillingham reports that other deputies who have also gone through the training agree that it is the best training they have received in the course of their careers! He said that just recently a Buncombe SWAT Team member who’d completed the training was able to negotiate with a suicidal man barricaded in his home, gain his trust, and gently escort him to a treatment facility.

A handful of Asheville city police officers have taken the course. We should make it a priority for a large number of our cops to be given the opportunity go through the training. It will improve the safety of our police and our citizens, help defuse many tense confrontations and reduce incarceration rates.

In conjunction with the creation of so-called “mental health courts” which provide adjudication sensitive to the sometimes criminal behavior of the mentally ill, and drug courts (recently endorsed by the Obama administration), we can begin to remove social and health issues from the criminal docket that has jammed our court system and unnecessarily damaged far too many lives.

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