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Police and the mentally ill: Are they or aren’t they trained?

Published: 
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Minister Dillon: Yes, they are

In April 2017, following the death of Raymond Joseph who was shot three times by municipal officers inside the Point Fortin Area Hospital, Fyzabad MP Lackram Bodoe had put forward an urgent question to National Security Minister Edmund Dillon about police training to treat with the mentally ill.

Dillon reportedly said officers do receive training in the matter. He was reported as saying, “Police go through different types of training at the police barracks including how to treat a mentally ill patient.”

Joseph, a 51-year-old ex-soldier from Mahaica Road, Point Fortin, was said to be well-respected within the community and relatives said he was being treated for a mental illness when a confrontation with police ended in his death.

Jennings-Smith: No, they aren’t

On May 17, 2017, the T&T Guardian carried a story by Geisha Kowlessar headlined, Cops not trained to deal with mental patients, in which Kowlessar referred to a comment from Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of National Security Glenda Jennings-Smith.

The story read as follows, “Faced with perennial criticism for using excessive force in handling the mentally ill, MP for Toco/Sangre Grande, Glenda Jennings-Smith, said the police however, are not properly trained to deal with mental patients and called on the various health bodies to stop neglecting their responsibility.

“This,” the story said, “as the family of a 24-year-old man, who was fatally shot by an off-duty police officer during an altercation near a Moruga bar… has called for an investigation.”

TTPS: We do not have mechanisms

On June 7, 2017, police shot and killed another mentally-ill man.

Inspector Lester Kerr was speaking at the TTPS weekly news conference following the police shooting of Damien Paul in Ste Madeleine when he reportedly announced that “the Police Service does not have the mechanisms in place to train police officers on how persons who are suffering from mental health problems in T&T, ought to be handled.”

This was less than a month after MP Glenda Jennings-Smith publicly said, “Police are not properly trained to deal with mental patients.”

Inspector Kerr was responding to media reports that told of how Paul was throwing stones at the police when he was shot and killed.

Kerr admitted that “law enforcement officers did not have the requisite skill set to treat with such cases.”

He was quoted as saying: “Well, we don’t have people trained to deal with mentally ill persons, what we would do is to contact the relevant authority if it becomes necessary but if a police officer is on any scene and they feel that their life or any other person’s life is in danger then they would act accordingly. But we are indeed saddened by any loss of life because it is not one that we really look forward to.”

Minister Moses: Police trained for all confrontations

On June 8, 2017, Power 102FM reported acting National Security Minister Dennis Moses as “assuring citizens that police officers are trained to treat with confrontation by all categories of persons including the mental ill.”

Moses, while acting as National Security Minister, responded to a question in the Senate and said, “The police are trained to treat with all categories of persons including confrontation by mentally ill persons.

Minister Moses explained that “the Police Service Academy Induction Training Programme offers training to recruits with respect to treating with mentally ill persons.”

PCA to acting CoP: Are they trained?

The PCA, in April 2018, described the killing of Colin Roopchand, 26, at his home in La Romaine, as “unfortunate” and indicated they were currently investigating the matter. Police shot and killed the man who lived with bipolar disorder and who “was acting violent and abusive towards his mother” and according to police, “he attacked them.”

The PCA called on acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams to provide the public with information as it relates to the level of training provided to its members in this regard. It further called on him to give an account of the failure, if any, to provide training on treating with those who are mentally ill and who pose a threat to the public.

‘Call Tyrone’?

Following Roopchand’s killing, when contacted for comment, acting Commissioner of Police Stephen Williams reportedly said “he did not want to speak freely on the matter. He suggested that all questions be sent to his office’s communications department.

Thereafter, he promised to respond by providing full details “as it relates to training and all other matters raised so that total clarity would be brought on the matter” (Newsday, April 7, 2018).

More to follow

—Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI). Write to: mindful.tt@gmail.com

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