With the nation’s attention drawn towards questions involving police use of force, it is good to remember that not every officer falls into this trend. There are reports that seek to balance the scales, showing light where only shadows are portrayed. For each use of excessive police force that causes outrage and action it is valuable to understand that individuals carry out these incidents; individuals with the backing of badges, but nonetheless individuals. Many police departments have sparkling records with regards to the use of force and that often goes unnoticed. The successes of these departments ought not be overshadowed by the outright failures of others, but should be identified and recognized lest our distaste towards some official action become disgust with every uniformed individual. One such example of success can be found in San Antonio.
When it comes to excessive police force, reasonable minds often disagree over whether instigation by the citizen involved rationalized the officer’s use of force. Instances where police use of force is concerning involve citizens who cannot express their own version of the events; particularly where there are no witnesses. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, about half of the people who are shot and killed by officials have mental health problems. The Supreme Court has addressed the issue with regards to interrogation and the sentencing of the death penalty of those with diminished capacity. When it comes to policing the mentally handicapped, the San Antonio Police Department has been identified as a model for national success.
This past March, San Antonio Police received a phone call from a distressed mother. She was concerned that her son would not take his medication and was acting aggressively and threateningly towards her. The woman also informed the officers that her son refused to eat or bathe and was paranoid. The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office then did something slightly unusual; they called the office’s mental health department. With de-escalation of the threat in mind, officers who specialized in mental health responded to the call and spoke calmly with the son. Ultimately, after some convincing, the man agreed to accompany the officers to a treatment facility.
There have only been two incidents of mental health deputies using force since 2012. The approach of sending deputies trained in mental health and de-escalation techniques has been hailed by the Treatment Advocacy Center as a model for reducing both violence and incarceration of the mentally ill. In San Antonio approximately 2,300 people per month are referred to treatment; it is likely that without this referral those people would have been incarcerated. The American Psychiatric Association has awarded Bexar County’s program a Gold Achievement Award. The program involves police training in mental health, police have 24-hour access to crisis centers and access to the mental health unit, jails and courts now screen for mental illnesses and the county’s mental health agency has created varied treatment options.
At Brownstone Law we commend the efforts made in San Antonio and are pleased to see a police force engaging in helping its citizens, without using excessive police force.
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