More mentally ill people taken into police custody

Chances are you or someone you know has suffered from mental illness at some point in your life.

About one in five adults in the U.S. suffer from mental illness every year, and many aren’t able to get the help they need on their own. When they present a danger to themselves or others and are unable to seek help themselves, law enforcement officers can legally intervene and take them into custody. 

The Paducah Police Department’s year in review report for 2015 shows officers took 75 people with mental illness into emergency custody last year. That’s compared to 53 in 2013 and 32 in 2012. Police Chief Brandon Barnhill says in most cases people with mental illnesses are not taken jail, but to a mental health center for an evaluation. Barnhill says the system could be improved further, because it can be difficult to diagnose a person in a one-hour evaluation.

"Sometimes individuals are being put back into the community, not deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. And it’s left for law enforcement to deal with that, and that continues to be a problem. We get a lot of repeat calls for the same issues involving the same individuals," Barnhill said.

Gretchen Roof with Four Rivers Behavioral Health in Paducah says the growing number of people with mental illness taken into police custody could actually be a good thing.

"They get good medical care, and some mental illnesses — with a round of medication — can start to show improvement in a day or two," Roof said. 

Roof says the numbers could be a result of more training between law enforcement and health experts on better managing people with mental illnesses.

If you or someone you know suffers from a mental illness and needs treatment, you can contact Four Rivers Behavioral Health or the National Alliance on Mental Illness for other options.

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