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Deaths of Indy Cops Lead to Calls For Better Mental Illness Training

Five S.M.A.R.T. Tips for Approaching The Emotionally-Disturbed

The Associated Press

Sometime in the last month, a small gold sticker appeared in the back window of Butler University Police Officer James Davis' squad car - a symbol of support for slain Indianapolis Patrolman Timothy Laird.

On Thursday, Davis was buried next to Laird in Crown Hill Cemetery, his death an eerie echo of the violence that had claimed Laird's life just five weeks before.

Both were 31. Both left behind wives, young children and families struggling to understand their loss. Both died in the line of duty, shot by men thought by authorities to be mentally ill.

Their deaths have renewed calls for better training of officers dealing with the mentally ill and for better access to mental health care.

Indiana has six state-run psychiatric hospitals, as well as three prison facilities that serve inmates with mental illnesses. But demand for services has increased dramatically in recent years.

The number of low-income people seeking state-funded care for mental illness has nearly doubled over the last decade to more than 105,000, said Cindy Collier, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, which oversees the state's Division of Mental Health and Addiction.

But funding has not kept pace, and many seeking treatment face waiting lists, said Stephen McCaffrey, president of the Mental Health Association in Indiana.

"In Indiana, we have a very good mental health treatment system that is seriously under-resourced," McCaffrey said. "It's a national problem."

Butler Police Chief David Selby said more federal and state money should be funneled into programs that teach officers how to interact with people with mental illnesses.

"Obviously this is becoming a greater problem," he said, referring to the deaths of Davis and Laird.

A new state law, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires police academies to include training for dealing with the mentally ill.

Scott Mellinger, executive director of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, said all of Indiana's six police training academies offer such training, which teaches officers how to recognize those with mental illness and the best ways to approach various situations. But the curriculum is constantly changing as new health concepts emerge.

It's unclear whether Laird and Davis received such training; police officials did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. But even the best training cannot prevent some dangerous situations, Mellinger said.

"There is not a collection of solutions that will keep officers and/or civilians from getting hurt in the future," he said. "Situations can turn on a dime. They can go from good to bad in a fraction of a second."

Laird died Aug. 18 when 33-year-old Kenneth C. Anderson, who had killed his mother, opened fire with an assault rifle. Four other officers were wounded before police fatally shot Anderson.

Anderson had been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and had stopped taking his medication in the weeks before the shooting, his family and friends said.

Police officers had previously seized nine guns and more than 200 bullets from Anderson's home after responding to reports that he was behaving irrationally. But the guns were returned to Anderson in March after police determined there was no legal way to keep them.

The city Police Department changed its policy after Laird's death and now requires consent from the police chief and public safety director before returning weapons to anyone suspected of being mentally unstable.

Davis was shot by Khadir Al-Khattab, 26, during a confrontation Friday outside Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse. Al-Khattab, who was fatally shot by police officers after a two-hour manhunt, had spent about a month in the state's prison for the mentally ill.

Al-Khattab's family members have said they tried to place him in a mental facility but could not find any openings.

McCaffrey said he hoped access to care will improve if more funding is set aside for such facilities.

"We have not prioritized the need for mental health treatment," he said. "Sometimes that means you have extreme examples like you've seen recently. But more often it means someone cannot hold a job or keep families together unless they get the appropriate treatment."

Indianapolis resident Anthony Smith, 31, who watched Davis' funeral procession wind through the Butler campus Thursday, said more training for officers could help _ to a point.

"When you're faced with a situation that's life or death, all they can really do is go on what instinct and training they have," Smith said. "They still have to protect their lives."

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