Problems associated with people with mental illness pose a significant challenge for modern policing.
An example of this occurred last month when, in the early morning hours, the Stuart Police Department received a call of shots being fired. Officers were able to quickly respond and detained an irate individual along with a handgun, shotgun, ammunition and spent casings. Even though the individual admitted to officers that he had fired the guns, was taken to the Guthrie County Jail, was charged with disorderly conduct and intoxication, the charges were dismissed in lieu of psychiatric treatment. He was transported to a psych facility in Des Moines and, after the required 72-hour state evaluation period, was released according to Stuart Police Sergeant Mike Algreen.
Guthrie County Sheriff Marty Arganbright says these types of calls do come in more often than not and tend to involve repeat offenders. Officers receive some instruction through basic training while attending the academy, but not near enough and would hope to see more Arganbright added.
Although police officers frequently encounter people with mental illness, it is important to recognize that mental illness is not, in and of itself, a police problem. Medical illness is obviously a medical and social services problem, while a number of issues caused by or associated with people with mental illness often become police problems.
It should be realized that police officers are not always aware mental illness is involved and will handle the immediate situation as usual. Sergeant Algreen says they responded to a call regarding shots being fired, not about a person with mental issues firing shots. Even if they know the mental state of a person they arrest, the Magistrate is the only person who decides if charges should be dropped and mental evaluation ordered Sergeant Algreen added.
Officers are not doctors, we don’t have PhDs explains Sheriff Arganbright. Once the officers arrive at the scene, they have about 5 minutes to grasp the situation and then deals with it the best they can. Officers are determined to not only keep themselves safe, but others safe as well.