NYPD bounces off Bumpurs
EDP training evolved out of 1984 shooting
When Eleanor Bumpurs was fatally shot in 1984 by New York City police officers, public outcry over the incident forced the department to re-examine its handling of the mentally ill. The shooting led to the development of a psychological training component which, 15 years later, is still used to train members of the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit and its Hostage Negotiation Team.
Bumpurs was a 66-year-old emotionally disturbed person who lunged at ESU officers with a kitchen knife after a failed attempt to evict her from her apartment. Det. Rafaella Valdez, a hostage negotiator, said Bumpurs’ death was a wakeup call for the department. The incident gave rise to a new form of training to respond to people in psychiatric crisis who fell through the cracks of the system.
“We realized that you had to respond to these jobs with more than just a bulletproof vest, more than just the weapons that we carried. We had to respond with the knowledge of how to deal with mentally ill people,” she said.
The emergency psychological technician training course, which has been altered little since its roll-out in 1985, is a one-week, 35-hour session taught by trainers from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the NYPD. Classes are held about six times a year.
The course focuses on a variety of topics, including basic negotiation issues, types of mental illness, assessing behavior and dangerousness, substance abuse, officer suicide and domestic violence. Participants are led through role-playing exercises by actors and trainers to explore the various situations ESU officers and negotiators may face.
New York’s ESU officers are unique in that they are called upon for both rescues and tactical SWAT-type operations. Following the Bumpurs shooting, the NYPD changed its procedure so that now, when a 911 call indicates the involvement of an emotionally disturbed person, a first-responding officer, a supervisor, an Emergency Medical Service unit and the ESU are dispatched to the scene. In a barricade situation, hostage negotiators are also sent in.
ESU personnel only handle situations in which a person is barricaded. When an emotionally disturbed person is out on the street, dealing with that individual becomes a patrol function, unless a knife or some other weapon is involved, said Dr. Raymond Pitt, an emeritus professor of sociology at John Jay who runs the course. Patrol officers do not receive any additional training in handling the mentally ill beyond what is taught at the police academy.
“I have been a firm and long-standing advocate of patrol officers and sergeants knowing more about this,” said Pitt. “They are the one who are the first-responders, at least the officers are.”
The psychological technician training, Pitt noted, is another tool that officers can add to their kit. ESU personnel train together with members of the mobile crisis unit from the state Department of Mental Health, which allows each to absorb the goals and objectives of the other. For example, ESU personnel are first concerned with safety and then communication. The reverse is true for the mental health workers, who may not realize how dangerous a situation is. During a recent training session, Pitt said, officers “were essentially explaining to them what these risk factors were, and also the dangerousness of somebody’s situation. Meanwhile, the officers are hearing from the mental health people more about how they are connecting.”
He added, “It reinforces for the ESU, yes safety, but communication is so important. And for mental health, yes, communication, but you’ve got to watch your ass — because a suicidal person might decide to take you, too.”
Problem-solving, community policing blend smoothly with EDP response
At the same time that greater numbers of seriously mentally ill people were becoming prevalent on the street due to deinstitutionalization, a framework was being created as a result of law enforcement’s embrace of community policing through which more innovative solutions to the problem of handling the emotionally disturbed could be realized.
Dr. Henry J. Steadman, a sociologist and president of Policy Research Associates, observed that community policing has “had a major impact” on the development of specialized response programs by law enforcement. “The two of these blend together very logically because it’s very much what community policing is about,” he told Law Enforcement News.
The Memphis CIT program has given national visibility to what police can achieve, noted Steadman. Those departments around the country that have tried to replicate the model or have received materials on it are coming to recognize that it is no longer a matter of four hours of additional training at the academy, he said. “They realize it is a matter of engaging a wider community in responding to the needs of people they encounter on the streets.”
One of the first departments to implement a Memphis-type initiative was the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau, which had also been among the earliest adherents to problem-solving policing. After several serious incidents in 1994 in which mentally ill subjects were fatally shot after threatening officers with firearms, the agency brought to its table the Multnomah County chapter of the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and its Behavioral Health Division to begin investigating different response models, said Officer Ed Riddel, who coordinates the program. The agency conducted its first training of CIT officers in 1995.
“We rely heavily on the community-policing mode, on partnering with other agencies, other services,” he told LEN. “The CIT program goes strongly hand-in-hand with that because all of our instructors are from the mental health system. The police do not train themselves in crisis intervention.”
The initiative has also had implications department-wide, said Riddel. With an anticipated exodus of officers due to retire in the very near future, Portland is running its own state-certified academies to handle an influx of recruits. Under a mandate handed down by department officials, all candidates in the next academy will receive a minimum of 16 hours of training — 12 hours more than the state requires — in mental illness, crisis intervention and developmental disabilities.
“We know we’ll have officers walking out and working on their own that have a far enhanced understanding of mental health and developmental disabilities that they wouldn’t have had two, three or five years ago,” said Riddel.
Since implementing the specialized response, he added, the department has encountered fewer barricade situations. Even among patrol officers who have not had CIT training, there have been more instances where emotionally disturbed persons have been encouraged to seek help instead of having to be put on an involuntary hold for evaluation, said Riddel.
“There is a greater trust that’s occurring from the consumer movement in the police,” he said. “They’re not waiting till somebody else calls on their behalf. Often times, they’re calling because they either request a CIT officer or they know the officers are probably not going to be locking them up, or telling them to go fly a kite. They’re looking to get some help.”
The active role taken by family advocacy groups since the 1980s signifies a shift in the handling of such situations, said Steadman. In many communities, including Portland, organizations like NAMI have developed partnerships with law enforcement. “That makes a big, big difference,” he said. “I don’t think family members 15 years ago were working with police departments. They were seen as adversaries.”
Recently, said Gary Margolis, chief of campus police for the University of Vermont, a student was arrested for trespassing. During the arrest, however, he started reciting baseball scores. Realizing there was something wrong with him, the department called in the county mobile crisis unit to conduct a psychiatric evaluation, along with the university’s academic affairs department, its counseling department and the young man’s parents. Calling together various groups in this fashion is part of the police agency’s holistic approach to dealing with EDPs, he told LEN.
If his department had not adopted a community policing philosophy, Margolis pointed out, the response to the incident would have been more along the lines of: “‘Okay, bud, you’re under arrest. Don’t come back to campus; you come back to campus, you’re going to be arrested again.’ We never would have picked up the phone and talked to student affairs,” he said, “never would have notified counseling or the kid’s parents. Without the understanding of partnership, you’ve got bopkis — nothing.”
Margolis sits on the Council for State Government, an advisory panel found in all 50 states which is funding policy development on police response to the mentally ill at the national level. A three-tiered project, he is one of three police chiefs sitting on the group’s criminal justice and law enforcement track. The other chiefs are Mary Ann Viverette of Gaithersburg, Md., and Robert K. Olson of Minneapolis. Along with state legislators, representatives from NAMI and others, they will be giving direction to a full-time staff launching a grant initiative.
One of the biggest problems with police response to the mentally ill, he said, is giving officers enough training so they can recognize psychiatric problems and then access the proper resources. Another issue is out-patient commitment, in which those with mental illness are ordered by a judge to take medication that would control their behavior. Most states, he said, have a right of refusal for treatment.
“What does that mean for me as a police officer?” said Margolis. “I come to deal with this person, they’re clearly mentally ill and they’re making themselves mentally ill because they’ve chosen not to take their meds.”
In order to get an involuntary committal, the subject must meet certain criteria, Margolis noted. “If it’s not met, you’re not going to get a mobile crisis unit team out there at 4 in the morning,” he told LEN. “It really is a complex evolution of laws, deinstitutionalization and training. But we recognize it’s a problem everywhere. If you sit in a room with me at the university, or Bob Olson in Minneapolis, or Bernie Parks in L.A., we all have the same problem when we deal with the mentally ill.”
The pendulum of case law on the mentally ill
While deinstitutionalization is believed by many to be the cause of the now commonplace interaction between police and the mentally ill, some expert observers see things in a more nuanced light.
Lieut. Sam Cochran, who heads the Memphis Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team, said laws that make dangerousness to oneself and others the standard for taking a mentally ill individual into custody are not always clearly defined from one community to another. That in turn can shape the context of how the law is enforced by police and can make it much easier to take the mentally ill to jail than to hospitals.
The definition of dangerousness has been broadened over time by state courts, noted Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a group working on behalf of the seriously mentally ill. After the standard for involuntary commitment was changed in the early 1970s, police using the most narrow interpretation would have to wait until a crime was committed before they could intervene.
In the mid-1970s, she said, the pendulum began swinging back when a man who could not be hospitalized committed a double homicide in the state of Washington. It was the first state to add to its law a standard that looked at the progression of the illness, or the person’s mental deterioration.
“Since that time, about half the states have adopted standards in addition to dangerousness which include the person’s history of noncompliance and the lack of awareness of an illness which could lead to the inability to make good decisions,” she said.
The following are some of what experts contend have been pivotal state and federal court decisions:
Olmstead v. L.C., U.S. Supreme Court, 2000. Under the American With Disabilities Act, mentally ill patients may not be kept in state hospitals when they wish to move to small group homes in agreement with their doctors.
Zinermon v. Burch, U.S. Supreme Court, 1990. The court overturns a Florida law which states that a mental patient must give informed consent to hospitalization, but fails to make any provision for the patient to be examined at admission for competency.
Boggs v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, New York, 1987. The New York State Court of Appeals broadens the concept of ‘dangerous to self’ when it finds that a patient left untreated would likely neglect himself to such an extent that he would come to serious harm.
Rivers v. Katz, New York, 1986. The New York State Court of Appeals rules that in the absence of a medical emergency, a hospital can medicate an unwilling patient only if a court finds that person to be incapable of making a reasoned decision about treatment.
Seltzer v. Hogue, New York, 1993. The New York State Court of Appeals rules that a person need not be “presently” dangerous for the purposes of involuntary civil commitment.
Riese v. St. Mary’s Hospital, California, 1989. Anti-psychotic drugs may not be administered to an involuntarily committed patient unless there is a judicial determination of incompetence or a medical emergency.
Rennie v. Klein, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 1983. Involuntarily committed patients may refuse psychotropic medications.
Rogers v. Okin, Massachusetts, 1982. Competent patients may refuse medication in non-emergencies.
Lessard v. Schmidt, Wisconsin, 1976. A federal court overturns Wisconsin’s commitment law, substituting a dangerousness standard that permits involuntary commitment only when a person shows an extreme likelihood of doing immediate harm if not confined. The ruling also for the first time gave the mentally ill the same protections accorded a criminal suspect.
Souder v. Brennan, District of Columbia, 1973. Patient-workers at non-federal hospitals, homes and institutions for the mentally disabled and ill are covered by the Fair Labor and Standards Act. Without the unpaid labor of patients, state hospitals find it increasingly expensive to operate, paving the way for deinstitutionalization.