Dear Sacramento Police Department: Please Don’t Kill Me!
The chance of a person being killed by a police officer because he or she has a mental illness may rise due to budget cuts, lack of proper treatment and the police being unaware that the person suffers from a mental illness. If you need to call the police on a loved one or someone you know who has a mental illness because of erratic or psychotic behavior, let the police know that he or she suffers from a mental illness.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Giat Van Truong, a 35-year-old man who suffers from schizophrenia was shot to death while becoming violent with the arresting police officer. According to Sheriff Sgt. Tim Curran, the arresting officer was unaware that Giat was mentally ill, although Giat had been arrested on mental health holds (5150) several times throughout his life. It is also important to note, however, that Giat had a history of violent crimes as well. This was the third high-profile case in Sacramento County in the past two years regarding killing someone who exhibited signs of a mental illness.
In 2008 the Sheriff’s department came into contact with over 1,700 people known to have a mental illness or behaving in such a manner that it was assumed they could have a mental illness. With the lack of funding for specialized training in this area many police officers are not able to accurately determine if someone is violently resisting arrest or is scared, confused and may be psychotic due to a mental illness.
As noted by the National Institute of Mental Health:
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44. Many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet criteria for 2 or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity.
I understand that the Police Department has many duties and there is not much money for training in the mental health field. However, it is important to consider that someone who is not acting rationally may be mentally ill and needs compassion and understanding rather than a bullet and death.