Police agencies lead in dealing with mentally ill

It’s long been one of those problems that pretty much everyone in the loop knew about and even some people talked about — occasionally — but little was done about it because of cost, among other reasons.

It is the continued incarceration in city and county jails of people beset by mental illness. According to a recent study, as many as 64 percent of people that are locked up in such facilities for crimes large and small, are mentally ill in some way, shape or form.

And it’s the people who are on the front line of the criminal justice system — the police — who are taking the lead in attempting to vector people who are mentally ill into appropriate treatment facilities instead of the local lockup, which are not good places to treat mental illness.

“Police chiefs are saying, ‘We’re spending tons of time with individuals with severe mental illness in the community and then we’re bringing them to jail,'” said Ross Buitendorp, a board member of the Mental Health Diversion Council.

Additionally, an official with the Michigan Sheriff’s Association estimates between 45 and 65 percent of county jail inmates receive some form of psychotropic medication for mental illness, and 90 to 95 percent have some type of substance abuse problem.

One thing police are doing is utilizing to a greater degree a program called Crisis Intervention Team training. The 40-hour class trains officers to better identify people with mental illness, and intervene in a smarter way. A CIT-trained officer can recognize symptoms that someone who is suicidal, bipolar or schizophrenic might show during times of stress.

Another example of this forward-thinking can be found in Oakland County, which has a mental crisis center, called Common Ground, designed for people needing immediate mental help. It’s become an important stop for many police officers who need to drop off a mentally ill person.

These are but two examples of what law enforcement is doing, statewide, to help address a problem that has been around forever. We’d suggest the state Legislature demonstrate a dollup of leadership and provide a small measure of funding to support these kinds of efforts.

Every community in the state has these issues. It’s going to take a team effort to make significant gains. We’re pleased the police are, to some significant degree, taking the lead.