LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Police officers carry firearms, two-way radios and Tasers to deal with emergencies every day – but are they equipped to handle people with mental illness?
That question – whether officers are sufficiently trained to deal with this special population – was the focus of a California State Senate Select Committee on Mental Health hearing that was held Friday in downtown Los Angeles.
At today’s hearing, Senator Holly Mitchell questioned the force used in an encounter on the Harbor Freeway last July. The scene ultimately sparked her interest in improving mental health training for officers and the push for Senate bills 11 and 29 that would mandate 40 hours of behavioral health training for field officers.
There have been numerous cases around the Southland in which officers have been involved in confrontations with people suffering from mental health issues, many of which have ended with deadly results.
Vicky Vickers was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago and was homeless for four years, and says she’s noticed a shift.
“It’s frightening,” said Vickers. “We don’t know if we can trust the police anymore.”
Vickers added: “Some of our behaviors that are involuntary are interpreted by the police as something dangerous and criminal and they are not. They are involuntary behaviors that happen because of our mental illness.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he wants additional training for his deputies, but can’t do it without the funding.
“More training would be nice,” McDonnell said. “Nearly forty percent of all of our use of force incidents involve individuals suffering from mental illness.”
The former CHP officer involved in Harbor Freeway incident had received eight additional hours of training, but the department has since adopted a 40-hour training policy for its officers.
The findings from the committee will be used by legislators to pass or improve legislation and to consider budget allocations.