Police Advised to Use Caution with Mentally Ill

Article excerpt

Shirley June Ansley's sister thinks Jacksonville police should

have convinced the mentally ill woman to surrender following a

chase that ended when an officer fatally shot her.

Mental health experts, however, say they aren't so sure a

different ending was possible.

"It's difficult for the public, especially police officers in a

situation such as this, to determine how to perceive these

folks," said Bill Retzer, president of the Jacksonville Alliance

for the Mentally Ill.

"They see the immediate behaviors, and their responsibility is

the public's safety, their own and others around them," Retzer

said. "A person may be acting bizarrely. It's extremely

difficult to come upon a situation and make an assessment

accurately on that basis. Officers have to deal with each

situation uniquely."

On Jan. 7, Ansley went into Yarbrough Corp Security in

Baymeadows, where she was employed, playing a stringless guitar

and singing. Her manager called the police and asked them to

issue a trespassing citation. She drove off, and police

followed, later trapping her vehicle in a parking lot.

She struggled to free the van and struck one of the officers,

police said. She aimed the van at another officer, who shot her

four times, killing her.

Lula Stevenson said her sister had a form of schizophrenia that

made her lash out, become abusive and destructive. Relatives and

court documents said Ansley's condition was becoming

progressively worse and that she had shown that, without proper

medication, she would cause serious bodily harm to herself and

others.

"Her condition was escalating," Stevenson said. "She became

more violent toward family members, but usually not to

outsiders."

The shooting raises the question of how well Jacksonville

police are trained to handle mentally ill people.

While officers receive three hours of instruction at the police

academy on dealing with mentally ill people, the Jacksonville

Sheriff's Office says most officer training is done on the job.

The Sheriff's Office policy on mentally ill people addresses

when to make involuntary mental examinations and how and where

people who are mentally ill should be transported.

The section of the policy about how officers should act when

encountering a mentally ill person is a brief directive:

"Officers who come in contact with suspected mentally ill

persons will handle them in the least restrictive manner

possible while protecting the patient, themselves and others."

Police say it's impossible to write a how-to manual on dealing

with mentally ill people, because the situations can vary so

greatly. …