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Country should return to community policing

Kudos to The News for Matt Spina’s excellent series of articles on emotionally disturbed persons. The fields of mental health and law enforcement have both been through historic transformations that are especially evident in society’s treatment of the mentally ill. Both have been invigorated by advances in science and technology. These advancements, however, come at a cost to people and communities.

Since the mid-1990s, law enforcement has become increasingly reactive and detached from the community. Cops chase dots on crime maps and are not intimately embedded in the life of the neighborhoods they serve. Permanent assignment of community police officers, or beat cops, if you will, is the common-sense remedy for this. Sadly, two decades of overemphasis on the crime statistics that make politicians so happy to report has long since derailed a once thriving community policing movement.

In the field of mental health, advances in diagnosis and psychotropic pharmaceuticals have supplanted the so-called talking cure method of psychiatry, with the result that tens of thousands of mentally ill people are medicated and turned out on the streets. This delights insurers, pharmaceutical companies and governments that don’t want to afford long-term residential treatment, but it brings many of these patients into tragic contact with the community and the police, as the series reported.

As the state of New York heads into a new legislative session, one hopes that the problems so vividly outlined in the series will prompt the Cuomo administration and the Legislature to take a good, hard look at this critical area of public policy and respond to it with imagination and compassion.

Terry O’Neill

Director, Constantine Institute