Police are responding to more mental health calls

December 5, 2010 • Local News

Mental health calls are an issue the police deal with daily. Interim Roswell Police Chief Dennis Kintigh said the number of calls the department receives for Code 11, potentially violent mental patients, and Code 12, nonviolent patients, for the past three years appear to be rising.

In 2008, the police responded to 140 mental health calls. Of these, 51 were Code 11 calls and 89 were Code 12 calls. In 2009, police responded to 182 calls, 70 Code 11 and 112 Code 12. In the first three quarters of 2010, the RPD received 182 calls, 72 dealing with potentially violent patients and 110 nonviolent.

These may represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg, with more than 50 percent of the people in Chaves County Detention Center diagnosed with some sort of mental health disorder. When people with substance abuse problems are added to equation, the figure is closer to 75 percent.

According to Kintigh, the police plan to combat this problem with appropriate training. He relayed the story of the first time he had to confront a mental health patient in the FBI and was [auth] reproved by the receptionist who said “that’s not how we handle things here.”

“It’s interesting to note,” he said, “that my training in mental health came from the receptionist.” The RPD will be receiving a more comprehensive course. “We’re discussing CIT, crisis intervention training … many people have taken this course and have moved up the ladder through promotion.

It’s time to train a new batch of officers,” he said. Dealing with people who are suffering from mental illness presents dangers to all first responders. Kintigh referred to the death of Fire Chief Louis Jones, who was shot, along with an EMT and two bystanders, on March 16, 2002, by Paul Freeman as he tried to burn down his former girlfriend’s house. It came out later that Freeman was being treated for some sort of mental health disorder.

Although Kintigh acknowledges police must deal with these issues for reasons of public safety, he said, “We are the concrete floor of the mental health safety net.” Not only as interim police chief, but as a representative in the state Legislature, Kintigh feels that appropriate treatment for mental illness is a statewide problem. “We as a state need to deal with this,” he said. Treatment facilities are few and far between.

“If I’m not mistaken the correctional facility in Los Lunas has more beds for mental health issues than any other place. Sunrise only has 28 beds, and people from Los Lunas have to go to Las Vegas for evaluation.” He also discussed the July 2010 incident where Robert Reza, 37, shot his girlfriend and then forced his way inside the plant where he killed two employees before turning the gun on himself.

Kintigh believes the solution may include making many dif ficult decisions. “This man was able to buy a gun six weeks before being fired from his job. Maybe we need to consider that some people should not be allowed to have any kind of weapon, not just guns. Other weapons can be just as dangerous.”

He also said that New Mexico may be considering implementing Kendra’s Law, which was enacted in New York and mandates the compulsory compliance with treatment protocols, but confesses it brings about questions of enforcement and civil liberties. “Medications are another issue.

There’s a controversy about what are appropriate levels of medication,” Kintigh said. Substance abuse further complicates the issue. He referred to a study in Australia which looked at siblings who used marijuana and those who had not and found increased incidents of psychosis in the users. “Methamphetamines and the effect on the forming brain is frightening.

Then there’s Fetal Alcohol Syndrome,” he said. Fetal alcohol syndrome refers to growth, mental and physical problems which may occur in a baby when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. “Years and years ago, after the movie ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ we moved away from inpatient treatment,” said Kintigh.

“Perhaps we need to take another look at it. Is there a way to treat people, protect the safety of the public while we preserve civil liberties?” He repeated that he did not claim to be an expert. “I don’t know the answers to these all these issues. I just pose the questions. It would take someone smarter than myself to provide the solutions.”

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