December 23, 2012

Another View: Police are more likely to save lives than take them


Your series "Deadly Force: Police & the Mentally Ill" (Dec. 9-12) implied that police are unnecessarily shooting mentally ill people, ignoring the far more common outcome where the police save the lives of people in mental health crisis. Cases of the police using deadly force are a minute percentage of the thousands of calls involving mentally ill persons that are brought to a peaceful resolution.

In this year alone, Westbrook officers have responded to 125 calls involving suicidal people and many more involving other mental health issues. Several of those involved posed a danger to themselves and others, even to the point where deadly force could have been used. However, officers were able to call on their training in dealing with the mentally ill, and resolve the incidents with less, or no force.

Westbrook's experience is mirrored around the state. Dealing with mentally ill people is a daily occurrence for police officers, who are nearly always able to provide assistance without the use of force.

Sadly, however, there will be incidents where mentally ill persons present a real and imminent threat to the lives of others. In those cases the use of deadly force may be both the necessary and the correct response.

The Crisis Intervention Team training cited in the series provides useful tools for officers, but it is not a panacea. The skills taught are useful in many, but not all cases. Officers make every effort to resolve a crisis without the use of force or with minimum force. In the majority of cases, they're successful.

However, ultimately police have the responsibility to protect others and the right to protect themselves. When confronted with a person intent on causing death or serious harm, the use of force, including the use of deadly force, may sometimes be their only option.

Capt. Michael F. Nugent is a member of the Westbrook Police Department.

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