After Kelly Thomas
, a schizophrenic man who lived on the streets of Fullerton, died at the hands of Fullerton policemen in July, there was one thing just about everyone--the victim's family, protesters, the city council and law enforcement officials--agreed on: Law enforcement could use more training on how to best interact with people with the mentally ill. It wouldn't eliminate problems, of course, but it couldn't hurt.
As the Weekly reported in August,
the state Mental Health Services Act
funds a two-day training course where law enforcement officials speak directly to people with mental illnesses and family members of the mentally ill. Despite the state funding, however, the classes were often under-enrolled.
When Greg and Dana Atkin heard about Thomas, they couldn't help but think of their 34-year-old son Brian who has schizophrenia and used to live on the streets of Fullerton. While the couple thinks the mental-health system as a whole needs an overhaul, there's something more immediate they want, too--better training for officers.
Greg says he thinks every law enforcement official should be trained on how to interact with the mentally ill. "How would anyone respond, and especially someone with paranoia, to that level of aggression?" Greg says of the tone often used by law enforcement officials.
Now, it seems that at least one Orange County law enforcement agency--the sheriff's department--is taking the issue seriously.
During the 40-hour program, officials will listen to lectures and watch real scenarios, Von Quednow reports.
Thanks to good ol' Columbus, nobody at the sheriff's department is answering phone calls to comment on how much, if at all, they're paying the Ventura agencies for the training, or whether state funds fund the partnership.
Anyway, kudos to the sheriff's department. Hopefully other agencies in the county follow suit soon.