Aamer Madhani, of USA TODAY reported in his article on October 2, 2016 the following with Dr. Peter Scharf’s expert opinion as a criminologist.
Police departments and policymakers around the country are grappling with how to bolster training for cops on mental health issues in the midst of a string of high-profile fatal incidents involving suspects believed to be in the throes of mental breakdowns.
The current debate on policing in America has largely focused on whether inherent racial bias has led to police disproportionately using deadly force against African-Americans.
But long simmering on the back burner is the struggle for police departments to deal with the eye-popping number of deadly incidents that involve people with mental health issues, law enforcement and mental health experts says. A study by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center published last year found that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police, while the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 15% of men and 30% women annually booked at U.S. jails have mental health problems.
“What departments are going through right now is nothing short of a cultural revolution,” said Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the LSU School of Public Health and Justice. “Jails have become the alms house of this generation and police have become the first responders to the mentally ill.”
The issue of mental illness and policing was drawn back into the spotlight after police in El Cajon, Calif., on Sept. 27 fatally shot Alfred Olango, 38, an unarmed man who was killed after his sister says she called police for help because he was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Olango’s sister, who has not been identified, says she told police that Olango did not have a weapon.