(MintPress)–New York City has began a major sweep to remove violent mentally ill individuals from the streets. Sources have told the NY Post that the city has drawn up a list of 25 most-wanted targets.
This action is in response to the pushing of Sunando Sen by Erika Menendez and the pushing of Ki-Suck Han by Naeem Davis onto a subway track. Sen and Han were both hit by a subway train and killed.
“After the Queens subway attack [of Sen], the [city] decided to take a proactive approach to track down the most dangerous mental-health patients that currently have mental-hygiene warrants” out for them, the source said.
“Mental-hygiene warrants” are not warrants calling for an individual to appear before a judge or be arrested, but “apprehend and detain” orders for individuals that are not cooperating with their court-ordered treatment. The idea behind serving a “mental-hygiene warrant” is to ensure that the warranted person is incapable of harming bystanders, family or himself.
The diseases these mentally ill persons could be suffering from run the gamut from severe depression to schizophrenia to psychosis from drug abuse. At one point, these individuals were arrested and were ruled not liable due to mental illness or were sentenced to either inpatient or outpatient psychiatric care.
The source have stated that a “handful” of officers have been assigned to this detail since its creation a few weeks ago. Officers assigned to the New York Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center use surveillance technology to track these individuals, with street detectives being assigned to apprehend the suspect and escort them to a hospital.
Previously, the city’s Department of Health would petition the police to find mentally ill people that are not taking their court-mandated medications. However, this requires knowing the suspect’s current address, which may be difficult if the suspect has left home. The city is now concerned that it can be held financially liable if another mentally ill person hurts himself or others.
“You have a family member who goes to the Department of Health and gives them the information. Then they go to the Police Department, and together, the DOH person and the police go out and try to track down these people,” said a city official. “They’re just trying to get these people help.”
New York City is far from alone
In Phoenix, Ariz., state legislators are considering a bill that would make it easier for police to arrest the potentially dangerous mentally ill. Currently, Arizona law permits the police to detain someone who is thought to be dangerous and have them remained to a hospital for 24 hours. However, this requires the police office to observe and report on the behavior.
HB 2158, introduced by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) would remove the personal observation requirement and would extend the maximum ordered hospital stay to 48 hours.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert) finds this troubling. He feels that the diagnosis of someone in the identification of mental illness without training is dangerous. “There are a lot of people that I think act a little bit nutty to others that are perfectly sane,” he said.
Kavanagh, based on his experience as a policeman with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, feels that the current Arizona law limits the police’s ability to send those that may need psychiatric evaluation and help to a hospital or mental facility, as the detaining officer must make have observed the suspect at length first.
“From my own experiences, this will pose a real problem in letting people who should be taken in for observation to evade that,” he said. “Usually, it’s witnesses that call police, that report the aberrant behavior. And usually, when the police officer arrives, the aberrant behavior will often stop,” sometimes just on seeing someone in a uniform.
“The overall purpose of the bill is to pick these people up who are potentially violent and paranoid before they pick up a gun and start killing a lot of people,” Cavanagh continued.
“We need to be really cautious this doesn’t open up some kind of Pandora’s box that now anybody who acts differently than us rises to the level of probable cause, and now we can hold them,” Farnsworth said.
In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced legislation that would restrict violent offenders that were deemed not criminally responsible for their actions. This was inspired by a high-profile case in British Columbia in which a mentally ill father killed his three children.
The new restrictions would allow the courts to designate a person found not criminally responsible for violent crimes “high risk.” As a “high risk” suspect, a person can be held longer without a formal review, would be ineligible to leave their forensic facility by themselves and would face greater challenges in leaving with an escort.
Harper stated that he is responding to “glaring gaps” in the system. “Currently, there is no obligation under law or regulation to warn the families of their victims that these violent people are returning to the community,” he said. “Here is the biggest problem: Canadians have been shocked to learn that certain violent individuals who, while still in detention, have received unescorted day passes despite still being a significant threat to public safety.”
The ethics of locking up the mentally ill
Many in the mental health field see a growing trend to criminalize mental illness. This can be seen in Colorado, where there is a growing consensus to improve emergency mental health services as a means of locking them up before the onset of a crisis. Many in the field say such extreme methodologies will actually discourage the mentally ill from seeking help.
There are large populations, however, that feel that if mental health care networks in this country were stronger, the individuals behind the horrendous acts of violence that have beset the nation would have been detained. “When tragedies like this happen, people are upset, they want to say ‘I did something,’ especially elected officials. I get that,” said Moe Keller of the patient and family advocacy group Mental Health America of Colorado.
Keller added, holding more people against their will “doesn’t do any good if you don’t have the resources there to provide treatment to that person.”
The March 1 sequester threatens to cut in excess of $20 billion from Medicare, which pays doctor and hospital fees for many mental health patients.
There is an established stigma on individuals with mental illness. The School of Social Work at the University of Washington addressed this negative impression, “The discrimination and stigma associated with mental illnesses stem in part, from the link between mental illness and violence in the minds of the general public (DHHS, 1999, Corrigan, et al., 2002).”
“The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, ‘Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders — especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (New Freedom Commission, 2003).’”
The University of Washington points out that “the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)” and “Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006).”
According to the 2010 report “More Mentally Ill Persons are in Jail and Prisons than Hospitals: A Survey of the States” — published jointly by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association — 40 percent of all individuals with serious mental illnesses have been in jail or prison at some point in their lives. There are currently three times more seriously mentally ill persons in jails and prisons than in hospitals. In Nevada, the ratio is 9.8 in a jail or prison to 1 in a hospital. In Arizona, the ratio is 9.3 to 1, and 7.8 to 1 in Texas.
As commentator Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek stated in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “The jail cannot serve as an adequate substitute for the care and treatment provided in a hospital. The conditions in any jail would have harmful effects on the mentally ill. High-intensity interactions, lack of privacy and noise levels add to the stress and agitation of these folks, and they get worse instead of better: They despair, refuse to come out of cells, refuse medications, exhibit psychotic symptoms, harm themselves and/or violently act out. By virtue of a court’s order we know they are a danger to themselves or others, and the risks they pose to themselves, to other inmates and to our staff only compounds with each successive day without proper medical care and treatment.”
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