Police Beatings Prompt Calls for Change
(Sept. 16, 2013) Before the brutal police beating of Porfirio Santos-Lopez, 46, in Long Beach, California, multiple calls to police and paramedics to obtain psychiatric treatment for the victim went unreturned (“Long Beach police beating casts ugly glare on failure of mental health care,” Los Angeles Wave, Sept. 12).
This makes the second California county to witness the police beating of a man with severe mental illness who wasn’t able to get the treatment he needed.
Just like the 2011 police beating of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with untreated schizophrenia, the video of Lopez’s beating has gone viral and is triggering outrage. After Thomas’s death, Orange County began looking more closely at implementing Laura’s Law for people with serious mental illness.
Los Angeles County, home of last week’s police beating, has a very small but successful assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) pilot program. It’s not possible to know whether Lopez would have qualified for AOT, but we do know that, for individuals who do, law enforcement contact – and confrontation – falls.
This story also emphasizes the importance of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) policing for law enforcement officers, a proven tactic for training police officers on how to respond to incidents involving mental illness. Yet only 49% of people live where these teams are used. To find out whether your county is one of them, see our August 2013 report, “Prevalence of Mental Health Diversion Practices: A Survey of the States.”
For more evidence of what happens when police are used as frontline mental health workers and treatment is withheld until tragedy, watch for our upcoming report “Justifiable Homicides by Law Enforcement Officers: What is the Role of Mental Illness?” later this week.
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