December 30, 2012

Newspaper series spurs call to action

State lawmakers and members of Congress say it showed a need for more data and better training.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

"Can anybody show us that this training is working?" Haskell asked rhetorically. "We don't know how often (fatal) situations have been avoided. I don't want to discount the work that's already being done."

Haskell noted that Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris enacted a crisis intervention program when he was Waterville's police chief.

"This kind of intervention is important," Haskell said. "Is there a way to do something similar for Maine State Police?"

Morris didn't respond to a call for comment.

CONGRESSIONAL RESPONSE

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, said the stories in the series "draw attention to what a lot of us have known for a while: that we need to be providing more resources and attention to mental health care in this country."

"Even during tough economic times, when budgets are tight, we need to re-evaluate our current approaches," Michaud said in a written statement. "Boosting awareness and treatment across the board would help more people get well and also help cut down on the dangerous situations our police officers confront."

Michaud said he will continue to work with law enforcement leaders to support federal investments in the resources they need to safely carry out their jobs.

"Our men and women in uniform risk their lives each and every time they respond to potentially violent situations, and they deserve access to the best training and equipment," Michaud said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, said the series "highlights a need for more resources for those suffering from mental illness, more training for public servants who work with the mentally ill, and for more detailed data."

"It's clear we aren't spending enough on mental health resources, which can lead to dangerous situations that put both the public and police officers at risk," Pingree said in a written statement. "The Mentally Ill Offender Act grant program does provide some funding to help train police in how to deal with people suffering from mental illness.

"Unfortunately," Pingree said, "Congress has cut the (annual) funding from $12 million to $9 million over the last few years -- cuts that I disagree with."

U.S. Sen.-elect Angus King, I-Maine, said he plans to review Justice Department reports to learn more about the issue and crisis intervention training programs being offered in some states.

"Identifying states that have addressed this issue well is a key going forward," King said in a written statement. "That said, creating a one-size-fits-all solution often creates its own set of problems."

King noted that the mental health system is stretched -- a problem exacerbated by the economic downturn putting stress on families and funding.

King said he would support increased data gathering by the Justice Department to provide a better understanding of the issue, as long as the focus is "on improving the system and not just finding fault."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

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