The Black Lives Matter spotlight on police training and protocols reveals in part that much of what police officers are asked (or required) to do does not match their training and a “law and order” mentality.
But let’s recognize that police and prisons often are handling the needs of the mentally ill because of a disastrous defunding of state mental health institutions in the 1980s and ‘90s. It failed to sustain compensatory community supports for mental illness and bias. The often-related issues of homelessness, drug dependence, and domestic violence need social service responses rather than criminal ones.
Beginning 40 to 50 years ago, the treatment of the mentally ill in state-run hospitals, schools and sanitariums was analyzed as badly flawed and was cut, yet funding for the alternative social and health supports at the community level has been woeful. (See a Globe Spotlight focus of June 23, 2016.) Without adequate funding, “taking care” of these needs migrated heavily to the police and incarceration, and also to the schools and nonprofits.
Falmouth has effective police protocols for civil disturbance issues, Falmouth supports a town human services department, our school system has staffing for school adjustment and other counseling, and energetic nonprofits work on the effects.
And yet, in Falmouth and elsewhere, any shifting of resources away from police budgets must move them toward strong actions in areas we are reluctant to inspect and own, which makes them hard to sustain. Funding must not be taken away with good intention from one overburdened or poorly matched service without energetically applying them to new purposes, sustained long after initial reforms.
Peter L. Clark
Woods Hole Road