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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Local police see encounters with mentally ill up

  • For Roxie Treece of McPherson, encounters with the police have not always been a positive experience.
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  • Editor’s note: This is the second part in a two-party series on mental health and commitment laws.
    For Roxie Treece of McPherson, encounters with the police have not always been a positive experience.
    She grew up in the middle of drug wars, and police were not always thought of as the good guys.
    About 20 years ago while living in Hutchinson, Treece found herself in crisis. She became very depressed and tried to end her life by taking an overdose of drugs.
    A friend discovered what Treece had done and alerted police.
    The police broke down her door, took her into custody, handcuffed her, drug her out of her home, shoved her into a police car and transported her to Hutchinson Hospital.
    “I was distraught,” she said. “In my eyes I had done nothing wrong.”
    Once Treece had been medically stabilized, she agreed to voluntarily commit herself for mental health treatment.
    The officers saved Treece’s life. However, she said the experience of being handcuffed and forced into a police car remains a traumatic experience in her life and worsened post traumatic stress disorder she had developed from her violent past.
    Treece is example of the benefits and challenges of mental health commitment laws.
    Law enforcement officers have the authority to take anyone into custody who they think may be a threat to themselves or others.
    Treece, who is the president of the McPherson chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness, said most people who face commitment choose to voluntarily commit themselves for treatment to avoid involuntary commitment procedures.
    Treece has received treatment for illness and is doing much better now. She said she has slowly felt better about dealing with police, but she said she still has a fear of police. That fear is not only a barrier to treatment for her, but she said she thought it is for others as well.
    McPherson Police Chief Robert McClarty said certain procedures are necessary when officers are dealing with people who have mental illness.
    Handcuffing someone may be necessary to keep the officers and the person who is ill safe.
    McClarty said he has been seeing more and more cases of people with mental illness having encounters with law enforcement during the last 10 years.
    “I believe families and care providers are doing their best,” he said, “but sadly, I think we need more resources for individuals.”
    This increase in mental health responses has been a drain on department resources. If a person has to be taken into to custody for a mental health evaluation, an officer has to be present while the person is evaluated, which can take hours. If the person is involuntarily committed, the officer has to transport the patient to a state hospital, usually Larned State Hospital.
    Page 2 of 2 - A mental health case can take as much as a half day when that officer could otherwise be out on the street patrolling.
    McClarty said his goal would be through prevention to have no mental health consumers have interactions with police, but when police do have interactions with police, he wants his officers to have proper training.
    McClarty has taken Crisis Intervention Team training, which teaches law enforcement officers how to deal with people with mental illness and to resolve crisis situations with nonlethal means.
    “We are the mental health first aid. We are the first responders,” he said.
    Treece supports CIT and education of the public through NAMI and other agencies. Education breaks down stigma and can assist in people with mental illness receiving early intervention.
    McClarty said he thought training helped in a incident this spring in which a suicidal subject kept police in a standoff near the McPherson College campus.
    The individual was taken into custody without anyone being injured and was referred for treatment.
    “I think any time we receive training, and can communicate better with mental heath consumers, we improve the situation in a high-risk standoff but also in other more common interactions with mental health consumers,” McClarty said.
    However, Treece cited another standoff with law enforcement. Her friend became suicidal and became involved in a standoff with law enforcement officials at McPherson State Fishing Lake. That man ultimately took his own life. Treece said she wonders if that situation might have turned out differently had the officials on scene had a better understanding of mental illness.
    McClarty is trying to arrange more training on mental health interventions for other officers, but the training can be costly.
    In terms of involuntary commitment, McClarty said his officers have to follow the laws of the state of Kansas.
    Despite her experiences, Treece said she supported changes to the law that would make it easier for friends and family members to seek commitment for loved ones who they believe may have a potential for violence.
    However, Treece acknowledged there is a fine line between protecting the public and protecting the civil rights of people who have mental illness.
    “In response to the mass shooting that have taken place in the recent few years, we have seen the stigma that ‘all who have this illness are violent’,” she said. “This is not true. A very small percentage of people convert to the violence that we hear about in the media. One in four people are affected by mental illness in a given year.
    “A key for successful intervention for the violence that we hear about in the media, in my opinion, is early treatment for the individual. If this is lacking, probably, in most cases, the individual only reacts to his or her feelings at the time of the event. If proper treatment had been introduced earlier, the outcome could have been very different.”

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