Someone asked me what I thought about the Kelly Thomas verdict. It brings up an interesting question for me. When I worked at the state hospital there were a few incidents where we had to "take down" someone who was floridly, and violently, psychotic. We were required to do so without putting a mark on them. If we weren't successful and the patient ended up with a bruise, a scratch or any other mark, we were required to document it in triplicate and report an "incident". Incidents reports were rare and were taken very seriously. When I see police beatings of people who are mentally ill this question always comes to my mind. If mental health workers can do it, why can't the police?
With that said, I do acknowledge the following:
1. I'm a mental health professional, not a police officer. So my experience and my opinions are coming from a different field of experience. I welcome input from police officers about this matter and the opinions I post here.
2. Police working out in the field don't know the person they are approaching or whether they are carrying any weapons. (However, we did have a patient leave on a day pass, purchase a gun and return to the hospital. And silverware, etc. could be used as weapons too, so we weren't totally working with "disarmed" folks.)
3. Even after 20 years in the mental health field I sometimes find it difficult to differentiate between a patient who is psychotic from mental illness and someone who is psychotic because of drugs, such as crack. Dealing with someone who is schizophrenic is very different from dealing with someone on drugs in terms of the potentiality of the situation to escalate to violence. Regardless, I wasn't allowed to hit anyone on crack either.
4. I have had the privilege of working with many Austin police officers who were compassionate, professional and extremely helpful when working together to meet the needs of the mentally ill. Some have bent over backwards to help these clients while treating them with the utmost dignity and respect. I do not think it is fair to judge all police officers by this one case. I am extremely grateful for those I have worked with through the years who are more than worthy to wear that badge.
Whenever questions like this arise I am reminded of two outreach workers who would go out into the community when a citizen was having a mental health issue. One woman, Ann, would frequently end up with injuries. The other woman, Elizabeth, would bring the patient in laughing and smiling and I never saw her sustain an injury. Why? Attitude. It has been my experience that when you approach anyone with respect and treat them with compassion and dignity you have a much better chance of achieving a good outcome and avoiding injury. By contrast, approaching people with excessive authoritarianism, barking orders and insisting on putting them in a subserviant position often provokes a negative response. And rightly so.
Finally, most people who are psychotic are not violent or dangerous, just distracted by the cacophony in their minds and acting accordingly. I've worked with a lot of schiziophrenic clients through the years and I cannot imagine any situation where hitting someone was appropriate or required. As I said above, even the few clients who became violent were taken down without putting a mark on them.
So why can't the police do the same?