Open Letter To our Legislators:
As a police officer, too many times I was legally helpless in dealing with the mentally ill. Cops encounter the mentally disturbed (by drugs, disease or defect) all the time, in general, without effective tools or resources to address the problem. In New Mexico, years ago a “Consent Decree” took the (not necessarily good) tool of using “protective custody” away from officers.
I’m sick of it. As one Florida student survivor proclaimed today, we’ve got to quit “having conversations.” That’s lame. We need actions, we need constructive solutions, with clear-eyed visions. We don’t need more platitudes from unbending partisans. We don’t need more untenable “comprehensive” bills. Trying to blame school shootings on one cause is to deny the hard subject of “what evil lurks” and humanness of the problem. Tackle one aspect at a time, not hodge-podges that no one will agree on. Agree on fixing one part, then move on to the next.
What we need is for somebody, us, we, our reps to get off the horse, get down in the dirt and move the rock that’s blocking forward motion of the plowshare. Continuing to whip the horse is futile.
See something, say something doesn’t get the job done. If we don’t know what we’re seeing. If we don’t believe saying something to an authority will make a difference then we need to change our way of thinking and turn intention into movement.
It was amazing during the Florida school shooting how consistent witnesses were in identifying the male in maroon shirt and black pants, and that was what the shooter wore. Multiple witnesses knew who he was in minutes. One woman was stopped from saying his name on air, saying, “Nick ...,” before she was cut off. These witnesses were paying attention. They knew the suspect right away. My guess is the street cops knew this guy and where to find him.
Do one thing at a time.
Here’s part of a potential solution. Forget Washington; they’ll never get anything done. They’d rather bicker and call names. We need our Colorado State legislators to hook up.
Our representatives with practical mental health professionals (not academics from cloistered ivory towers), with real world law enforcement (not politicians, like attorney generals) and in-the-classroom educators (not educational theorists, management or bureaucrats) from across our state need to get together and create a protocol for cops, health care workers, teachers and nurses.
Like we have “Miranda Rights” protocols. Like protocols established for “Use of Force.” Like protocols and training for officers to conduct “field sobriety tests” with several proscribed elements.
We empower and train law enforcement, teachers, counselors and medical practitioners with a protocol of, let’s say, Ten (Physical, Mental, Social & Observational) Diagnostic Questions” [Ten is a random number.] that can be taken in “field” interviews, clinics or counselor’s office. The group outlined, creates those objective questions & observations that have only “yes / no” answers. The identified person asks a questionable person these questions to determine whether or not there is reason to believe a mental problem, defect, or disease exists. (Some of the questions could be answered by the interviewer.) If the person in question is found to have all ten answers as “yes’ then that will give the cop, teacher or medical person the authority to make a timely non-negotiable referral to certified mental health professionals.
Once a professional makes the determination that a mental health issue exists, then the subject can be entered into a state database with the CBI that would preclude them from buying certain items, like firearms, precursors for explosives or items that could cause themselves or others “great bodily harm.” This designation could be removed after advanced evaluation.
Multiple questions are necessary as no one characteristic is enough. We have to get away from stereotypes and generalisations like, “he looked crazy,” “he smelled like a crazy.” “he had crazy eyes.” A furtive or eccentric action isn’t enough.
If the Field Evaluation Questions are answered “yes”, it should be allowed that, upon full description of reasonable suspicion, sworn law enforcement officers will have the ability to search the internet and “social media” for entries about or by the person in question.
This would be a start. Obvious is - what would the next step be? Regular reviews of random instances where the protocol was used must show that only the protocol was used and the protocol was not violated or manipulated in any effective way to influence the outcome. The “field” questioner with a witness (and, in the case of minors, a parent / guardian’s presence) would be one way to insure strict adherence to the protocol. If there was a deviance in how the protocol was performed or structured, then it would negate the protocol. Like Miranda, a failure to issue it (at the appropriate time) or an intentional omission would be a violation.
We can’t stop or prevent murder by outlawing hammers, iron skillets, butcher knives, axes, machetes, motor vehicles, gasoline & empty glass bottles, plastic bags, bathtubs or pillows, but we can do something about protecting the mentally ill from hurting themselves and others.
We can train those interviewers outlined above. We can test, evaluate and review their “field” actions. They must be able to act “in good faith,” exercise “due diligence” then be able to articulate in plain language the “reasonable” tests they performed, before steps are taken by mental health professionals who receive the subject for an involuntary evaluation and potential treatment.
Once the threshold has been crossed for evaluation, a “flag” would be placed on the subject’s digital record (perhaps as “non-criminal evaluation”), which would be seen when a “background” check is done for firearms, explosives or drug precursors. A time limit should be set for the clinical evaluation. If the mental health professional, in good faith and with “due diligence” coupled with law enforcement, finds the subject is clear of mental defect or disease, a certificate would be issued and the “flag” would be deleted. As well, if the subject has mitigating information that would “clear” themselves it would go toward a “clear” evaluation, as well.
Hey, if we can train an officer – our first line of defense – to attenuate a radar device, or evaluate DWI suspects or EMTs to evaluate and defibrillate patients we can train them to accurately conduct a “field investigation” or test for a mental health referral. If we can train (and certify) officers in the protection of our liberties like the 4th Amendment, then we can do this. It’s obvious we would have to set standards & criteria (reasonable suspicion before the officer could initiate the test). They’ve designed an emergency defibrillator that has a voice step-by-step instructions for first aid use. Why couldn’t we devise a field test that gives the officer a tool to establish probable cause?
If a person is mentally ill, it doesn’t mean they had control over creating the illness.
No less important.
Not by any means less critical, but paramount as well, we parents, teachers, newspapers, friends, grand parents, aunts and uncles, WE, all of US, have the imperative on our shoulders to teach our children to be part of their world, the real world not a virtual world full of impersonal rage and denigration. We have to teach them to be part of a flesh and blood, oxygen breathing, world full of tastes, smells, sounds, light and dark. We must teach them to be more than self-aware, to be alert, to be part of the community.
Be observers, witness life around you. Make those you “say something” to responsible for follow up. Be a good witness.
Looking at a problem, having conversations without action and consequences is just so much hot air. Cast rocks aside, get the horse some water and get’r plowed.
Vaya con Dios, Travel well.
Jeff C. Campbell