Guest Column: How law enforcement responds to mental illness

Guest Column: How law enforcement responds to mental illness

Debra Maynard
St Johns County, FL

In talking with St Johns County residents, I have learned that there is a common concern among those families who have a relative suffering from some form of mental illness; whether it be post-traumatic stress, developing stages of dementia, or chemical dependency.

Everyone I’ve talked to has shared concern for their loved ones’ interaction with law enforcement.

Some families have shared stories of hope — for example, they know how to utilize the types of systems in place for Silver Alerts when their loved one has wandered away.

Others have been angry at the handling of family members when they have been confront by inexperienced law enforcement officers who have not educated themselves about the proper handling of people with these medical conditions.

I know first-hand how quickly a soldier returning from combat can jump at the sound of a backfiring vehicle, or have problems sleeping because of recurring nightmares.

All law enforcement officers shoulder an awesome responsibility to identify and de-escalate tensions when encountering the mentally ill residents and visitors of our area.

Truly there will never be enough help or services to help all who suffer from some type of diagnosed mental illness; some even get placed into jail when they should be receiving medical attention.

You might be surprised the number of mental health related calls where law enforcement officers are dispatched each month in St Johns County. These calls include everything from attempts at suicide to individuals walking around talking to themselves.

Having answered those calls myself, I can tell you that the importance of always handling those with mental health patients with respect for the fact they are individuals with families, cannot be overstated.

Knowing how to deal with these circumstances and to be properly trained in handling those who suffer from all types of mental illness is crucial for our deputy sheriffs, and will be on the front burner in my office.

Community relations built with local agencies is key to helping these individuals and their families thrive; remember, it’s not only the individual who hurts, it’s the family who is watching.

Debra Maynard is a Republican Candidate for Sheriff of St Johns County and a former Deputy Sheriff. Thank you to those who have reached out with this suggestion and concern. This message has been approved and paid for by the Debra Maynard Campaign.

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