Successful Approaches with EDPs

Article excerpt

Local, state, and national courts are now handling a myriad of cases involving litigation against police departments who allegedly have mishandled persons with mental illness in crisis. Police departments understand accountability. However, new cases are emerging where litigants also hold the mental health providers accountable. One such case is Schorr v. the Borough of Lemoyne, PA; West Shore Regional Police Department, Cumberland County, PA Mental Health/Mental Retardation Department and Holy Spirit Hospital.

This case, if it stands the test of the appellate process, will have far reaching consequences regarding how law enforcement and state and county mental health departments and providers do business. Many of the observations made in this article are in direct response to this particular case and the events that led up to the serious injury of two police officers and the shooting death of 25-year-old Ryan Schorr, a mentally ill man, by police.

What is happening? One might point to tragic headlines reading "Police Shoot Mentally Ill Person." Legal precedents are being set citing "deliberate indifference" for failure to adequately train police officers. A lot of department money is being spent defending against lawsuits that cite ADA claims of failure to train officers in handling disabled suspects.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are taking a close look and finding creative solutions for managing persons with mental illness in their communities. Pro-active police executives have discovered a collaborative model of doing business with mental health authorities, consumers of mental health services, and family members of the mentally ill. Interdisciplinary training and education have become the keystones for reducing officer and citizen injuries, reducing time an officer sits with a patient in the emergency room, diminishing liability, and significantly increasing citizen confidence in police.

Perhaps the most compelling impetus for changes in how police do business has been from the frustration of police executives who felt scape-goated for a mental health system that is seriously inadequate and in need of system-wide change. These executives knew that pointing the finger of blame would not ultimately bring change. They decided to become part of the solution through collaboration.


Law enforcement and mental health services often share the same job, serving the same population. In part, law enforcement has been shoring-up a system of mental healthcare that has long been under-funded or unfunded, leading to a myriad of problems that make it difficult to assist individuals in psychiatric crises or in pre-crisis states.

Partnerships involving police agencies, emergency medical psychiatric services, regional hospitals, social service providers, families of the mentally ill, and consumers of mental health services have proven to work effectively and efficiently. Prime examples of these successful partnerships are the Mental Evaluation Teams (MET) of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT) of the Memphis Police Department. Models similar to these have been developed in both small and large police departments across the country.

The move to de-institutionalize those with mental illness in the 1960s brought persons with those illnesses into the mainstream of our communities. However, the public did not provide funding for crucial services to facilitate successful patient integration within the wider community. Over time, social services have evolved into specific systems with competing demands for services and a lack of resources to fully deliver much assistance.

With continued shrinking budgets, services for the less fortunate, such as the indigent or persons with mental illness, are usually the first to have funding cut. Through default, law enforcement has been handed the problem of psychiatric crises on the streets of our communities with no resources and little training. …