Mental Part 3: The role law enforcement plays in mental health - KNOE 8 News; KNOE-TV; KNOE.com |

Mental Part 3: The role law enforcement plays in mental health

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MONROE, La, (KNOE 8 News) - When exploring the world of mental health, so often you find stories of patients that have come in contact with police. In part three of four in the special report "mental" we examine the role law enforcement plays in mental health.

We've seen tragedy strike across the nation, at Columbine High School, the Aurora theater shooting, Sandy Hook Elementary, Fort Hood, and even in our own backyard. The Tensas State Bank hostage situation in St. Joseph is the most recent tragedy to hit the ArkLaMiss. It's in situations like many of these, when those that suffer from mental illness break.

"He had voices in his head," said LSP Colonel Michael Edmonson at a press conference in August 2013, "one of the demands was he wanted to have this device implanted in his head removed."

When those that need help aren't getting treatment or that treatment isn't enough, some people act out, commit crimes, or do the unthinkable.

"He had a small hand gun, that he had trained on the two individuals, he shot both of them as we were entering the building, we were able to shoot and kill him," said Edmonson.

If treatment isn't pursued or isn't accessible, who's left with handling those that aren't in control of their own minds?

"Who's kind of left holding the bag on this thing? Law enforcement, public safety," says Sergeant Mark Johnson with Monroe Police, "Generally speaking, we are here to keep the public safe, we are here to keep the peace, but our job is not specifically dealing with folks with mental health issues, but we have found out that we are having to assume that role more and more."

Across 12 parishes in Northeast Louisiana, police are training to handle mental health emergencies.

"The police, the ones that are out on the streets or if you are the first responder to a situation at the mall, you are going to have to be the negotiator to start," says medical psychologist E.H. Baker.

"We are very effective at what we do, we can de-escalate people, we can solve some issues, we can make the immediate problem go away but it always leaves us with this question here: What do with them after that?" says Johnson.

After a crisis situation, or even a petty crime, and suspects are charged they can be transported to one of two places: a hospital for emergency mental health treatment or to jail. In Ouachita Correctional Center, more than 60-percent of inmates are on psychiatric medication.

"Started closing all these mental health institutions, and at that same time you've had a 300 percent increase in prison population. We'll take a guess where that came from? They've closed one institution and moved it to another," says Johnson, "So now you're tying up jail bed space with mental health people, and I don't think it was ever designed to do that."

Once they're back on the streets in some cases, their time spent with law enforcement is far from over.

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