Summit highlights challenges for police and mentally ill suspects

Fil Alvarado reports.

The shooting of a mentally-challenged suspect near San Diego is the latest example of the critical circumstances facing law enforcement when they encounter someone with mental illness or a mental disability.

There are also plenty of cases in North Texas of officers dealing with mentally ill offenders. The topic was the focus of discussion at a mental health and law enforcement summit in Hurst. The Tarrant County District Attorney was there along with judges, police and mental health care professionals.

The question is how to care for mentally-ill offenders from the time police are called to the time they enter the criminal justice system or a hospital and how to recognize low-level offenders.

"Versus the ones who are more serious committing serious crimes, and we've had two very specific instances of that recently,” said Tarrant County DA Sharen Wilson.

There’s the case of the man who police said shot his father and wounded two Fort Worth police officers this month. The officers were ambushed. Police never had a chance to see who they were up against.

There’s also the of the Fort Worth man who stabbed his mother 50 times.

"The man who stabbed his mother to death had been, when he was a low-level offender, in a diversion program and didn't successfully complete it,” explained Wilson. “Some years later, he is a more violent offender."

Cases like this are why police have expanded their training.

"To be able to recognize not only what they're seeing and to redirect and provide resources to individuals,” said Arlington PD Deputy Chief Os Flores.

Wilson believes we need alternatives besides jail like a mental hospital or sending people home. She says that's going to take new laws and hard choices by the state.

"What can we do with this population that is kind to them but also safe for our community?” asked Wilson.

Some things understood right away from the summit are the enormous challenges and the solutions that require a very delicate balance of how and when to react. 

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