No Crisis Here Untrained Memphis Police Used to Kill Seven Mentally Ill People a Year. but That Was before the Police Got Smart. They Cooperated with Mental Health Experts on an Action Plan That Has Saved Lives -- and Memphis Is Now a National Model. Might There Be Lessons for Jacksonville?
Sweeney, Kathleen, The Florida Times Union
MEMPHIS -- High on cocaine, Joseph DeWayne Robinson stabbed at his throat with a foot-long butcher knife.
As four police officers surrounded him outside his apartment in a downtown public housing project, the 27-year-old man lunged toward them. The officers, called by the mentally ill man's mother to help him, fired.
Not once, but at least 10 times.
Robinson's death 10 years ago caused an outcry from mental health officials and advocates who said the police didn't know how to handle mentally ill people, especially those in crisis situations.
The problem was obvious, some said: On average, there were at least seven mentally ill people shot by police each year in Memphis.
With the help of mental health officials and the city's chapter of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Memphis police created a special task force to improve how they respond to mentally ill people and assure the safety of the community, police officers and patients.
Memphis mental health officials say they are proud of the department's progress and the success of the program. Instead of multiple deaths each year, there have been only two police-involved deaths of mentally ill people since the program began in 1988.
In fact, it's working so well it's become a model for other police departments across the country.
It's a type of program some Jacksonville mental health experts say could have prevented the deaths of two mentally ill people here last year -- and the type of program that should be implemented here to prevent any more.
On Jan. 7, 1998, Shirley June Ansley was shot four times when she turned the wheels of her van toward a police officer.
Seven months later, Lateef Faroque Abdullah died while fighting with police officers trying to take him to a hospital psychiatric ward. He died of a heart attack -- brought on while police applied a choke hold not once but three times.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says its officers receive adequate training, more than the national average of four hours, in dealing with the mentally ill, and that its policies are working.
"We could look at anything that would probably enhance our efficiency and anything that will help us deal more efficiently with the mentally ill person," Sheriff Nat Glover said. "But in fact, the system we use now . . . it's been functional for us."
Though there have only been two determined deaths of mentally ill persons in Jacksonville, local mental health officials say the Sheriff's Office hasn't …
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Publication information: Article title: No Crisis Here Untrained Memphis Police Used to Kill Seven Mentally Ill People a Year. but That Was before the Police Got Smart. They Cooperated with Mental Health Experts on an Action Plan That Has Saved Lives -- and Memphis Is Now a National Model. Might There Be Lessons for Jacksonville?. Contributors: Sweeney, Kathleen - Author. Newspaper title: The Florida Times Union. Publication date: January 10, 1999. Page number: Not available. © 2007 The Florida Times-Union. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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