Friday, January 27, 2012

Veterans In Crisis Pose Unique Challenges For Cops

USA Today had an interesting piece that hits close to home for my agency. The story is about a DOJ funded training program to help law enforcement agencies deal the unique challenges that military veterans with mental health problems pose for police. 
Developers of the pilot program, to be launched at 15 U.S. sites this year, said there is an "urgent need" to de-escalate crises in which even SWAT teams may be facing tactical disadvantages against mentally ill suspects who also happen to be trained in modern warfare. 
"We just can't use the blazing-guns approach anymore when dealing with disturbed individuals who are highly trained in all kinds of tactical operations, including guerrilla warfare," said Dennis Cusick, executive director of the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute. "That goes beyond the experience of SWAT teams."
The agency where I work is adjacent to Fort Hood, Texas which is one of the largest military installations in the world. It also houses quite a number of soldiers who have been deployed, often multiple times to combat. Unfortunately, we also occasionally deal with veterans in crisis. We've been very fortunate that we have not had  more problems than we've had. We're also fortunate that we have a very good working relationship with the military commands at Fort Hood. This often gives us more options than an agency that has little or no military relationships or is very far away from a military installation.

One trend I have been worried about is the number of veterans that have been discharged with behavioral issues that have decided to stay in our area. In years past, if a solider misbehaved and got discharged because of this, he we back home to his home of record. However, with the economy being what it is, we are seeing more ex-soldiers who have been "chaptered out" of the Army staying in the area because there are no jobs  back in Podunkville where they came from.

Anecdotally, I'm seeing more of these folks being arrested and entering the criminal justice system. Some of them are starting to become repeat customers because their mental health issues make them more likely to offend. This is doubly problematic because the poor economy has caused Texas to cut back on mental health care funding. Jails and prisons make poor substitutes for mental health care and our veterans, troubled or otherwise deserve better.

Has your agency had issues dealing with troubled veterans? Would better training help your agency deal with these vets?

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