Before and since 2015 I read with keen interest, as ever, articles about encounters some mentally challenged individuals have with law enforcement officials. The social worker for Shirley, a San Francisco schizophrenic, called police in 2015 and advised them that her client was locked in her room and threatening to kill the social worker. The police forced their way in. They then shot Shirley, who then sued them, saying, in essence, that because she is schizophrenic they should have taken more steps to avoid a violent confrontation.
What, pray tell, were those steps supposed to be? The officers were under considerable duress, since when they shot her she was in the process of charging at them with a knife! In New Orleans international airport, a man went from spraying several people with insecticide to chasing down a TSA agent with a machete, gaining on her. He was then seen and shot by a sheriff.
Monday morning quarterbacking has increased with a plethora of police dramas. Because so many of these shows wrap up in an hour and there is usually the luxury of streaming or taping the show for later (more intense?) viewing, the tendency seems to be to think the same applies to real life, that there must be a simple answer, overlooked or deliberately, maliciously neglected. Citizens angrily rail that there must have been “something” else the police could have tried.
But the person charging us, that attacker with a weapon has generally left us no choice. Bullets have been secreted in all manner of seemingly ordinary items, paint and deodorant cans and ballpoint pen cases. Knives fit in pouches behind vest and in holsters down boot tops. There are guns small enough to fit in a wallet; now there are pistols fashioned from plastic (by way of a 3-D printer) which can shoot a projectile. “Harmless” toy guns are too often acquired and valued because they so closely resemble the real thing.
Some halfway houses request specific officers who they feel have a rapport with certain of their residents, including when the woman is off her meds or the man is violent and swinging a broken bottle. When there’s almost no room to breathe, let alone move in the residence, in the bedroom no bigger than a bathroom or the closet-sized building elevator, and the door closes itself, leaving the police to battle the individual, there is not a single hand to spare when struggling with the subject, to hold or re-open the doors for arriving assist units nor paramedics. The paramedics themselves have had to call the police to protect them when it was they who’ve been called on to help, and several have suffered ambush – medics, without the power of arrest, who are clearly coming to try to save lives.
Until you have studied martial arts or for war, you cannot truly understand the training which hones our instincts. When in a life-or-death ordeal, where we have to make a split-second decision to save you, ourselves, or someone else, it occur to anyone that law enforcement strives to do the best we can with what limited information we have at the time of a confrontation?
Perhaps those second-guessing myself or my brother and sister LEOs can instead tell us how it is we or anyone can differentiate who is truly mentally handicapped from who is pretending to be, in the split second before we have to draw our weapons and instinctively fire to protect innocents or each other. Tell me: in that tiny, infinitesimal time, what it is we are supposed to say that will connect us with and calm that person who is now an assailant, and how to do this in the first instant when we arrive. Please tell us what and how you know, so we will be better able to understand human behavior, anticipate trouble, predict the future, and thus do our jobs.
former assistant instructor in tai chi chu'an; current TreeKeeper (#467); former Master Gardener; member of American Bird Conservancy, Audubon, Fraternal Order of Police, and Mensa; recently retired career cop; wife and mom.
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