Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Police Shooting in Alabama Highlights Challenge of Policing Mentally Ill

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Police Shooting in Alabama Highlights Challenge of Policing Mentally Ill

Article excerpt

The parents of a mentally ill woman are devastated after the police they called to help bring their daughter to a mental hospital accidentally shot and killed her on Sunday.

Melissa Boarts was armed with a pocket knife when officers pulled over an SUV she was driving on Interstate 85 near Auburn, Ala. Officers shot and killed her after they say she charged them, brandishing a weapon.

The Boarts family told reporters that their daughter had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was threatening suicide before her death. They had requested help saving her life, not ending it.

"There was absolutely no justification for it and we are all in deep mourning," Michael Boarts, Ms. Boarts's father and a former officer with the Alabama Department of Corrections, told the Associated Press.

This incident has brought to light the persistent challenges that justice departments face when dealing with people who struggle with mental illness.

Last summer, the Monitor reported on some of these challenges and what police departments in cities such as Los Angeles are doing to divert people in emotional distress away from the criminal justice system and into treatment.

The Los Angeles Police Department's partnership with the county's Mental Health Department has been hailed as a national model for mental health and policing reform. Law enforcement officers across the United States and worldwide are interested in the LAPD's mental health policing strategies.

L.A. keeps a handful of officer-clinician teams on patrol at all times, and also provides clinician support for solo officers.

Although L.A. is not the only city to partner police officers with mental health clinicians, it is one of the most robust and best known. The Monitor reports that L.A.'s mental health strategies saved the city both time and money, while better serving people in need.

So what can L.A. teach law enforcement officers to help prevent accidental deaths like Boarts's?

"By partnering beat cops with mental health clinicians, the MEU reined in costs associated with frivolous 911 calls," writes the Monitor's Noelle Swan. …

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