At Issue: Mental health & police response - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

At Issue: Mental health & police response

Posted: Updated:
BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Reporter: "Are our officers becoming that first line of care in mental health?"

Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling: "They absolutely are."

Chief Schirling says mental health calls are up nearly 400 percent in five years.

"When things are going poorly, the only people to call are police officers," he says. "And I think we need to take a hard look at creating alternatives, not just in Burlington, not just in Vermont, but this is a national problem."

The Chief says people who really need mental health treatment are ending up in jail. On November 4, Burlington Police responded to the Winooski Bridge for a jumper. 

"He didn't threaten to jump, he didn't say 'stop me from jumping', he actually jumped. He survived that. He was released. He wasn't put into any kind of in patient treatment and the week later called us and said, 'I've got a gun and I'm going to shoot myself,'" Schirling says.

They went to the man's house, set up a perimeter and started negotiating.

"He came out of his house holding, what ended up being a television remote, to his head after telling us that he wanted us to kill him. He's now in jail," says Schirling.

The Chief says at least once a month Burlington officers respond to situations where a suspect has made it clear that they want the police to kill them, something known as suicide by cop.

"The guy from the bridge is in jail for making a false public alarm. The facts fit. It's not like he's there illegally, but it's a perverted use of the criminal justice system where we should be using a mental health system," Schirling says. "Meanwhile, we're using a bed in the criminal justice system that we could use for someone who's dealing drugs or doing burglaries or armed robberies or something else."

Reporter: "Instead a man who jumped off a bridge but couldn't get help afterwards is now in jail."

The Chief says the emergency room is overwhelmed by mental health cases.

"We don't have enough beds for people in serious mental health crisis. We don't have enough middle ground placements for folks who don't need locked facilities, but do need day to day help to manage their lives. We don't have enough outpatient beds. what some clinicians I've talked to refer to as tune up centers," he says.

When officers respond to one of the 500 mental health calls a year the chief says, often, they don't know what they'll face.

"Is that altered mental status a psychological problem? Or is it physiological? Or are they diabetic and suffering from an altered mental status? Are they suffering from an altered mental status as a result of a head injury are they the victim of an assault that we're responding to who's now manifesting in a violent way because they have a closed head injury? It's incredibly complicated," he says.

Burlington's Police Chief says the breakdown in the system cannot be ignored. 

"How much more of an initial, significant call for help can you make than jumping off a bridge into frigid Winooski river that night? We've just got to do a better job," he says.

The Chief says over the next six weeks the department will assess the effectiveness of having a trained mental health worker responding to calls.

If it is working, he says, the Burlington Police Department may hire another person as a crisis responder.

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • People's United: Retirement Plan Updates

    People's United: Retirement Plan Updates

    Thursday, April 24 2014 7:45 AM EDT2014-04-24 11:45:35 GMT
    The Internal Revenue Service is requiring companies to update their retirement plan documents.More >>
    The Internal Revenue Service is requiring companies to update their retirement plan documents.More >>
  • Rutland pharmacist accused of stealing meds

    Rutland pharmacist accused of stealing meds

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:43 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:43:47 GMT
    In Rutland a pharmacist is accused of stealing meds from his employer. 32-year-old Brandon Cigana worked at the Walgreens Pharmacy on Woodstock Avenue. Prosecutors say he used his position there to access the pharmacy's inventory stealing regulated drugs like benzodiazepines, Hydrocodone and Suboxone for himself without a prescription. The Whitehall, New York man faces up to two years behind bars.More >>
    In Rutland a pharmacist is accused of stealing meds from his employer. 32-year-old Brandon Cigana worked at the Walgreens Pharmacy on Woodstock Avenue. Prosecutors say he used his position there to access the pharmacy's inventory stealing regulated drugs like benzodiazepines, Hydrocodone and Suboxone for himself without a prescription. The Whitehall, New York man faces up to two years behind bars.More >>
  • Drug bust in Burlington's Old North End

    Drug bust in Burlington's Old North End

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:44 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:44:04 GMT
    Police made a drug bust Wednesday night in Burlington's Old North End. Police and the U.S. Marshal's raided this home on Cedar Street around 8 o'clock. They say they seized heroin and cocaine. Six people were inside when authorities went in. But they're not saying how many arrests were made. The raid was part of an ongoing drug investigation.More >>
    Police made a drug bust Wednesday night in Burlington's Old North End. Police and the U.S. Marshal's raided this home on Cedar Street around 8 o'clock. They say they seized heroin and cocaine. Six people were inside when authorities went in. But they're not saying how many arrests were made. The raid was part of an ongoing drug investigation.More >>
  • Fire damages Lyndonville tree farm

    Fire damages Lyndonville tree farm

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:44 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:44:21 GMT
    Fire has damaged ten acres of a Lyndonville tree farm. Eight department were called in to battle the blaze. And it took four hours to get the flames under control. Fire officals say a discarded cigarette combined with dry conditions are to blame. One firefighter suffered from minor smoke inhalation.More >>
    Fire has damaged ten acres of a Lyndonville tree farm. Eight department were called in to battle the blaze. And it took four hours to get the flames under control. Fire officals say a discarded cigarette combined with dry conditions are to blame. One firefighter suffered from minor smoke inhalation.More >>
  • A warning for bird watchers: Give eagles space

    A warning for bird watchers: Give eagles space

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:44 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:44:36 GMT
    Bird watchers are being reminded to give nesting bald eagles plenty of space. The Vermont Fish Wildlife Department is urging anyone who sees a nesting eagle not to get closer than 300 feet. Activity too close to their nest can result in them abandoning their young. Harassing a bald eagle is illegal and a violation of the state endangered species statute.More >>
    Bird watchers are being reminded to give nesting bald eagles plenty of space. The Vermont Fish Wildlife Department is urging anyone who sees a nesting eagle not to get closer than 300 feet. Activity too close to their nest can result in them abandoning their young. Harassing a bald eagle is illegal and a violation of the state endangered species statute.More >>
  • Gun fired into New Haven home

    Gun fired into New Haven home

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 11:44 PM EDT2014-04-24 03:44:48 GMT
    Police are searching for who fired a gun into a home in New Haven. It happened late Tuesday night at 2420 Munger Street. Police say a bullet passed through a window of the home. Luckily no one was hurt. Investigators say a stop sign at the intersection of Munger Street and Cobble Road had also been shot. Anyone with information should call state police.More >>
    Police are searching for who fired a gun into a home in New Haven. It happened late Tuesday night at 2420 Munger Street. Police say a bullet passed through a window of the home. Luckily no one was hurt. Investigators say a stop sign at the intersection of Munger Street and Cobble Road had also been shot. Anyone with information should call state police.More >>
  • What triggered a shooting inside the Bennington police station?

    What triggered a shooting inside the Bennington police station?

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 6:57 PM EDT2014-04-23 22:57:35 GMT
    A Bennington man is in stable condition after being shot by an officer inside the Bennington Police Department. Investigators say Gregory Filo had a knife and was behaving erratically.More >>
    A Bennington man is in stable condition after being shot by an officer inside the Bennington Police Department. Investigators say Gregory Filo had a knife and was behaving erratically.More >>
  • Former Fortune 500 exec indicted in fatal NH crash

    Former Fortune 500 exec indicted in fatal NH crash

    A New Hampshire grand jury has indicted a former Fortune 500 executive on second-degree murder charges in connection with a crash that killed a Vermont couple in December.More >>
    A New Hampshire grand jury has indicted a former Fortune 500 executive on second-degree murder charges in a crash that killed a Vermont couple in December.More >>
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WCAX. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.