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Bridget Johnson

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September 19, 2013 - 7:55 am

A Democratic congressman who was wounded by Jared Loughner in the 2011 Tucson shooting is trying to better train first responders to recognize and commit mentally ill people who could pose a danger.

Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), former district director for ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) who was wounded alongside the congresswoman, ran for and won Giffords’ seat after she stepped down to focus on her recovery.

He introduced his Mental Health First Act of 2013 at the beginning of this Congress in January. It has 50 co-sponsors.

“I believe that if we can inform first responders, teachers, and others who may come into contact with people who are exhibiting mental health symptoms, if we could inform them and make them more aware of what they’re seeing, what the treatment options or available services are, and know how to de-escalate a crisis, I believe we can minimize, at least to some degree, the dangerous activities of people who go over the edge, as apparently happened on Monday,” Barber said today on MSNBC.

“In the case of the Tucson shooting, we know in hindsight that the shooter was displaying serious mental health issues for at least two years. His parents, fellow students, the administrators at the college, the police at the college, all saw something, but they never put it together,” he continued. “The Mental Health First Aid Act provides training across the country to all of these first responders and others who night come into contact to give them a better understanding of mental illness, what they — what they’re seeing and what — understanding what they’re seeing and knowing how to get someone into treatment. And that’s really the focus of the bill.”

Barber said his legislation is “gathering a lot of support both in the Senate and the House.”

“At least in Arizona, and I believe it’s true in many states, if not all, a police officer who responds to a situation where they feel the person is displaying symptoms of a serious mental illness that might lead to a dangerous activity, they can take that person for at least a 72-hour observation by a professional in the field of mental health,” the congressman said. “That could well lead to a desire and the need to have that person in treatment, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.”

“And I think we need to make sure that our first responders have a lot more information about what they’re seeing and knowing what to do about it when they see it.”

Barber added that his approach is “not a cure-all by any means,” but a bipartisan cog in a larger strategy.

“I know from the leadership of the majority party in the House, my sense is that they want to have a mental health bill, a package, if you will, of bills, including the one that that I’ve proposed to go forward, and probably not deal with the background check issue,” he said. “I mean, that’s where we stand. I think we have two different approaches in the two different chambers.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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Top Rated Comments   
Let's not mince words, what Barber's bill would do is give police officers the authority to arrest and detain a citizen for three days, FOR VIRTUALLY ANY REASON he or she chose. All the officer needs to say is, the suspect appeared very angry, or very extremely depressed, to me. Practically anything you say or do could be used as justification.

This authority would absolutely. and certainly, be widely abused by police officers, and it would be virtually impossible to discipline them for exercising "poor judgement" in it's application. Police officers would be shielded from criminal or civil liability for exercising "poor judgement" or it wouldn't work.

Would any American want such authority handed to the police? I sure wouldn't.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just remember that in the Soviet Union and other places besides, enemies of the state were commonly declared "mentally ill" or anti-social or some such and sent to institutions to be cured.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (10)
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" they would essentially be making semi-informed guesses at who is mentally unstable and who is not."

But police officers would never allow their judgement to be influenced by things like a citizen asserting his rights not to incriminate himself, or open carry where it's perfectly legal but not liked by the local PD, or skin color, or... or... or...

No, that could never happen!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The intent sounds okay, but there's one small problem. Okay, two.

That's not the federal government's business, and even if it were, it doesn't have any money anyway.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We already have such a thing here in Florida and it seems to work pretty well. Mostly it is triggered by the suspect stating a desire to cause harm to him/herself or to others.

Florida Mental Health Act
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The Florida Mental Health Act of 1971 (commonly known as the "Baker Act") Florida Statute 394.451 (2009 rev.) allowing for involuntary examination of an individual.

The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment). It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals. There must be evidence that the person:

has a mental illness (as defined in the Baker Act).
is a harm to self, harm to others, or self neglectful (as defined in the Baker Act).

Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable and occur in over 100 Florida Department of Children and Families-designated receiving facilities statewide.

There are many possible outcomes following examination of the patient. This includes the release of the individual to the community (or other community placement), a petition for involuntary inpatient placement (what some call civil commitment), involuntary outpatient placement (what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders), or voluntary treatment (if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment). The involuntary outpatient placement language in the Baker Act took effect in 2005.

The act was named for a Florida state representative, Maxine Baker, who had a strong interest in mental health issues, served as chair of a House Committee on mental health, and was the sponsor of the bill.

The nickname of the legislation has led to the term "Baker Act" as a transitive verb, and "Baker Acted" as a passive-voice verb, for invoking the Act to force an individual's commitment. Although the Baker Act is a statute only for the state of Florida, use of "Baker Acting" as a verb has become prevalent as a slang term for involuntary commitment in other regions of the United States.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Let's not mince words, what Barber's bill would do is give police officers the authority to arrest and detain a citizen for three days, FOR VIRTUALLY ANY REASON he or she chose. All the officer needs to say is, the suspect appeared very angry, or very extremely depressed, to me. Practically anything you say or do could be used as justification.

This authority would absolutely. and certainly, be widely abused by police officers, and it would be virtually impossible to discipline them for exercising "poor judgement" in it's application. Police officers would be shielded from criminal or civil liability for exercising "poor judgement" or it wouldn't work.

Would any American want such authority handed to the police? I sure wouldn't.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Here's the problem with that: the new DSM IV is so broadly written and filled with conditions with expansive criteria that practically everyone can be found mentally ill without much difficulty. Show up at your shrink nervous? That's anxiety, have some pills. You're sad because your pet died? That's depression, have some pills. Angry because some jerk spilled coffee on you right outside the shrink's office? Oh my you're a menace to society.

My point is that the guidelines can be abused easily enough as it is. Letting politicians use them as a guide to advance their agendas will compound matters even further. Going down the road this Democrat is suggesting will end very badly.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just remember that in the Soviet Union and other places besides, enemies of the state were commonly declared "mentally ill" or anti-social or some such and sent to institutions to be cured.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You know, Once Upon A Time, the State of NY had a law that addressed this issue.
A police officer could order a 24/48 hour involuntary commitment for evaluation if he felt there was a possibility of the subject being a threat to themselves or the public. But it was just TOO non-PC to survive the 60's/70's. Also all of the state mental health Hospitals have been closed. Or most of them. So there's no longer a place to send those in need of evaluation.
Progress! Ain't it grand?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
NYPD still can drag you to an ER-psych ward, and, if two doctors agree, the person behaving badly can 'disappear' for fourteen days.
In Massachusetts, same deal except it only takes one doctor to make you disappear. There was a small village police chief who managed to send one or two residents a month, mostly single women, to 'involuntary commitment'. Took two years to fire him, even though he had already been successively fired by two neighboring towns before the uber-liberal selectman (also took same two years to retire him) thought this bully-cop deserved a third chance.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hope this gets off the ground, because it is a real solution to a real problem. I don't understand people talking about background checks as regards the Navy Yard incident. The shooter had EXTENSIVE background checks. He had a security clearance. He had a pass that allowed him to drive a car onto a military base at a time of supposedly heightened security without having the trunk searched. Background checks are clearly not the magic bullet (so to speak) to address this problem.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I hope it doesn't het off the ground and is recognized for the non-solution it actually is. All it does is give police additional authority to abuse. And since police would simply have a checklist of possible signs of mental instability, which is very difficult even for mental health professionals to detect with any consistency, they would essentially be making semi-informed guesses at who is mentally unstable and who is not.

Police should be employed to deter criminal activity, not screen the general population for people with mental problems.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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