Sunday, January 29, 2012

Is Law Enforcement the New Mental Health System?

The thesis is titled "Management of the Severely Mentally Ill and Its Effects on Homeland Security." A sobering title. Even more sobering is the research that Michael C. Biasotti did for this thesis, presented to the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., in September 2011.

Biasotti surveyed 2,406 senior law enforcement officials. Seventy-five percent of them have been in law enforcement for more than 20 years. He found that they are overburdened by the "unintended consequences of a policy change that, in effect, removed the daily care of our nation's severely mentally ill population from the medical community and placed it with the criminal justice system."

Seriously? Yes, indeed.

Biasotti, whose day job is vice president of the New York Chiefs of Police, discovered:
  • 84 percent of the law enforcement officers said they have seen an increase in the mentally ill population during their careers.
  • 63 percent reported the time spent on calls for service involving people with mental illness has increased, with another 18 percent saying it has substantially increased.
  • 56 percent said the increase in calls is due to the inability to refer people with severe mental illness to treatment.
  • 61 percent said more people with severe mental illness are released to the community.
  • Mental illness calls take significantly longer for officers than calls related to larceny, domestic dispute, traffic and other things. 
Biasotti reports that the need for law enforcement to run a "shadow mental health system" is putting an unsustainable drain on resources and diverting law enforcement from other important security tasks. He called for the implementation of Assisted Outpatient Treatment laws to improve care for people with mental illness, conserve law enforcement resources and keep patients and the public safer.

It seems that making budget cuts that impact mental health care is having consequences on everyone. Imagine my surprise.


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