Police to Get Training on Mentally Ill Task Force Urges New Crisis Unit

Article excerpt

After four months of review, a task force appointed by Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover to review how police deal with mentally ill people has recommended all officers and rescue workers receive more training and a new crisis intervention unit be created with officers who have specialized training.

The Sheriff's Task Force on Mental Health and Crisis Episodes recommended yesterday that the department expand its mental health curriculum for new police officers and sworn officers. The group said mental health professionals and consumers, including the Jacksonville chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, should develop and implement the new curricula.

Glover said he will implement the recommendations.

The task force -- made up of police officers, rescue workers, mental health professionals, relatives of mentally ill patients and city officials -- found officers' knowledge about the mentally ill was limited.

"They had a great deal of knowledge, but it was limited to the extent that they recognize they need to deal more with the mentally ill and their approach and understanding of the mentally ill," said former Mayor Tommy Hazouri, who chaired the task force. "We are enhancing what they have."

The task force also recommended training for all fire and rescue workers and wants to create a mental health coalition that will provide the community information and forums for problem-solving.

It also wants to create a community center for police officers to bring mentally ill people who don't meet the criteria for involuntary commitment to a mental health treatment facility, instead of bringing them to jail first.

Hazouri said the recommen- dations go hand in hand with the mayor's task force reviewing whether the city has enough shelters for the homeless and how the city handles the mentally ill.

"We are addressing a major, major problem in this community that cannot be left behind," he said.

Glover said he welcomed the recommendations and appointed Patricia Hogan, a local mental health expert, to help the Sheriff's Office implement them. It's uncertain when that will begin or how it will be funded.

The issue surfaced in January 1998 after Shirley June Ansley, who had a long history of mental illness, was fatally shot by police. Ansley, 56, was shot four times in the chest after turning the wheels of her van toward a police officer and accelerating.

In July 1998, the issue was raised again. A police officer used a neck restraint on Lateef Abdullah, 49, after struggling with the man while trying to take him to a hospital psychiatric ward. Abdullah died after the technique was applied three times.

On Aug. 31, Glover appointed the task force.

Two months later Demetrius Brown, 20, of Jacksonville Beach died after three Duval County jail guards applied the neck restraint when the mentally ill man lunged toward them.

Glover then banned the use of the tactical neck restraint.

But Glover insisted the creation of the task force wasn't in response to those who died in police custody.

"I've been just watching the number of individuals who we arrest that go to jail, go to court and then find their way on the street and we arrest them again," he said. "There are so many homeless people who suffer from mental illness, and I'm not certain their needs were being addressed. …