Mental illness and safety

The death of Kelly Thomas, a 37-year-old homeless man suffering from schizophrenia, who died in July after an altercation with Fullerton police officers, is a sad reminder of the many people with mental illnesses who wander the streets of this country and the dismal lives they lead, which often end violently.

At least a third of California’s homeless suffer from mental illnesses. Meaning, there are at least 50,000 people in our streets who need psychiatric treatment and do not have access to it or simply refuse it. After Thomas’ death, Orange County supervisors decided to intervene and revive the idea of implementing a law approved in California almost a decade ago. This law authorizes court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those suffering from mental illnesses who might endanger themselves or others. It was approved in 2002 and is called Laura’s Law, after a 19-year-old woman who was killed along with two others by a mental patient who had refused treatment. The law is not mandatory and every county must approve it. Although this is a controversial measure, it can obviously help save lives.

The idea of training police officers on how to treat people with mental illnesses and veterans with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) should also be considered. More than once, veterans have died during altercations with the police, without any evidence that police officers made an effort to handle the situation in an intelligent manner.

Society cannot continue to turn a blind eye on these sad and tragic incidents. Today, two Fullerton police officers have been charged with murder and involuntary manslaughter for Thomas’ death. As a society, we should act to implement measures that prevent these types of incidents in the future.