Denyelle Anderson | Bellevue exodus may trigger more clashes with cops
The Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), while optimistic about the efforts to reintegrate persons who may be mentally ill, is concerned that the intended move may exacerbate lethal confrontations with the police.
It is accepted that care at the community level is preferred, but this initiative must have the necessary resources such as sustainable development of community-health services, adequately trained mental-health professionals to assist police operations, and the deployment of less-lethal weapons when the security forces are dealing with mentally ill persons. The aim of the reintegration should be to prevent, to the greatest extent possible, a migration from an institution like Bellevue into the criminal justice system, or worse, being killed or injured.
INDECOM's concern arises from the issue of police personnel using guns in confrontations with mentally ill persons. In the last year (September 2017-2018), 15 persons suffering from mental illness were shot and either killed or injured by the police.
The social support system must be strengthened to enhance the reintegration strategy, which extends far beyond familial and community healthcare. It must determine how these persons will be monitored, the preventative measures for relapse, and who within the family, community, or security forces has been sufficiently (not basic) trained in de-escalation tactics against an aggressive mentally ill person who may or may not be threatening another's right to life.
The security forces frequently come into contact with mentally ill persons and must be provided with the essential resources to contain any situational conflict that may arise. Currently, the police lack the sufficient or appropriate less-lethal devices for the restraint of mentally ill persons. A Taser, for example, is one such suitable alternative, which will allow for restraint from a distance, and minimises the risk of injury or death while neutralising the threat level. A clear policy for the use of Tasers would, however, need to be implemented.
INDECOM, in its 2012 annual report titled 'Safeguarding the Right to Life', wrote extensively on the issue of de-institutionalisation of the mentally ill, and best practices to adopt when dealing with the mentally ill, and made recommendations both to the Government and the commissioner of police. The commission's third quarterly report in 2017 also addressed police tactics in dealing with mentally ill persons.
The recommendation to the police force was that a programme should be developed "to train, refresh, and monitor the membership's appreciation of the operational policy regarding dealing with persons who are mentally ill. This could include the development of aide memoir booklets, simulation drills, and continuous liaising with mental-health professionals in the division".
The recommendations to Parliament, ministers of health, and security were for the implementation of "at least two medical response teams for each region, consisting of police officers with specialised training in dealing with the mentally ill and with psychiatric aides ... . These teams should be on-call on a 24-hour basis".
It was further suggested that ongoing refresher courses for the security forces be provided on how to deal with mentally ill persons. Now more than ever, with the pending discharge of 400 patients, it is critical that a strategic approach be utilised to safeguard their right to life.