Police Chief: State’s handling of mentally ill who pose threat should include ‘tough love’

Published: Jan. 21, 2020 at 4:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The suspect in Sunday’s deadly rampage at Diamond Head showed signs of mental illness for years.

Now Honolulu's police chief is demanding more tools for her officers to use in cases where mental health is involved.

“I think more than anything else we have more issues with mental illness,” Chief Susan Ballard said.

She said there are gaps in the mental health system that need to be addressed.

She would like to see a a database created that catalogs a person’s temporary restraining orders and past problems so officers know what to expect before they encounter the subject of a 911 call.

“I know people don’t like that but we have to be able to track people who are mentally ill, and not just to track them but also to get them the services they need,” she said.

Mental Health Kokua CEO Greg Payton agrees Oahu cops need more tools.

On Maui, crisis intervention experts ride along with MPD officers and shelters offer stabilization beds where offenders who accept help can be monitored and treated.

“This may be several days. It could be several weeks for somebody to get stable. And sometimes that involves co-occurring medical conditions as well,” Payton said.

Honolulu police receive 40 hours of crisis intervention training annually.

Honolulu City Council Public Safety Committee Chair Tommy Waters said training should include others in the criminal justice system.

“Perhaps more training for pretrial officers, prosecutors and judges to recognize when somebody is mentally ill and dangerous,” he said.

Ballard also wants social service workers embedded within the police department to accompany officers on calls where mental health is involved.

And she'd like to see permanent residential facilities for the mentally ill who pose a danger to themselves and others.

“They don’t have a choice. If you’re mentally ill you are going to go to a facility. You’re going to get the help that you need because obviously you cannot make those decisions on your own,” she said.

“I know it sounds tough but I think it’s time for tough love now.”

It’s likely the state Legislature will take up Ballard’s concerns in the upcoming session, but changes to the law are expected to be met with resistance from some quarters.

Organizations that champion civil liberties have argued that involuntarily committing someone with a mental illness who hasn’t committed a crime and who hasn’t been established as a threat is unconstitutional. Defining what it means to be a “threat” ― to yourself or others ― is a fraught issue.

This story will be updated.

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