Dr. Patricia Farrell on Medika Life

Police Unreasonable Fear May Be Deadlier Than Racism

Police use of deadly force may have hidden causes and it’s not necessarily racism and all of the causes must be addressed; people’s lives are on the line.

The media, seemingly, doesn’t have a day when there isn’t one or more shocking articles about incidents of inappropriate police actions. Too many newspaper articles or TV stories involve death, either of some innocent person or a police officer or both. To chalk it up to racism is an inadequate look into the subject, and it is unacceptable to everyone.

We serve no worthwhile purpose when we slander anyone, least of those sworn to protect us. Yes, I know I may be accused of being too pro-police because I have many law enforcement relatives, but I am a citizen who views the problems from a professional standpoint. I hope I can be unbiased, and I have tried my best, as all of us, to try to clarify some factors contributing to this bloodshed.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a POC in this country and have teenage boys in the family who, indeed, must feel targeted for arrest or worse for nothing more than a broken taillight on a car or jogging on a road in broad daylight.

The questions of mental illness and auditory hallucinations are not at issue here because neither was involved in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. His death was precipitated by his jogging in an area where there had been recent criminal activity. If a neighbor were thinking “citizen’s arrest,” would he have needed the firepower he carried with him? In this death, the police were not involved.

The town where I live asked me to provide a few classes for their officers regarding dealing with persons with mental illness. I quickly discovered that the police officers were similar to the security personnel at a psychiatric hospital where I had worked; they bought into the myths about mental illness.

Many of you have probably heard the myth about how powerful someone with such an illness can be and how dangerous. It is endemic in our culture, and we need to address it because people are endangered by it. Studies have shown that a lack of training and procedures can result in a self-fulfilling prophesy of mental illness and dangerousness.

“…departments lack written policies and procedures for management of persons with mental illness. The lack of education, training, policies, and procedures has a tendency to cause line officers to respond improperly. Instead of approaching the call as a person with an illness, oftentimes police officers will approach as though the patient is a dangerous felon.” When we combine all the myths, especially those where people believe the mentally ill have super strength, the result can be a tragedy.

I recall a young, immature, and almost seven-feet-tall patient on a unit where I worked. He thought it was great fun to tell tall tales about hiding alcohol on the grounds. Unfortunately, he “acted up” on the unit, and the security team was called in. These men have previously worked in law enforcement locally or in the military. Four men jumped on top of him and pulled him to the ground, where the skirmish resulted in one officer having a broken finger and another a severely sprained wrist.

They put shackles and handcuffs on him and pushed him into a grounds’ car to take him to the police station, where they pressed charges of assault against him. He was a young kid who laughed through the entire “fight,” viewing it as fun rather than fear on their part. He hadn’t attacked them; it was the other way around, but he was charged.

Another factor that may play a significant role in irrational police actions of any type may be the stress of the job, which can lead to depression and affect their work. But, along with the stress comes preexisting bias and racism; we cannot deny that.

Police culture has also played a role in how the officers respond to a situation involving a mentally ill person. We have already seen that there may be inadequate training regarding these interactions, but how much has been researched regarding the inherent fear of officers?

The stigma in the culture of the police workplace prohibits any display of what may be seen as fear. But aren’t all of us vulnerable to fear, especially when placed in a perceived life-and-death situation? Doesn’t our adrenaline kick in when danger is apparent?

Police officers are not immune to this natural, biological response. Their ability to control the reaction determines the situation’s outcome. But how many are willing to tell others of their fear? They are also victims of stigma, but here it is of appearing fearful in any situation.

The work of the police is essential, but their humanity must also be important. Just as the military has had to deal with mental health issues, such as PTSD, anxiety, and depression, police officers must be seen in this enlightened light.

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Pat Farrell PhD
Pat Farrell PhDhttps://medium.com/@drpatfarrell
I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.


Medika Editor: Mental Health

I'm a licensed psychologist in NJ/FL and have been in the field for over 30 years serving in most areas of mental health, psychiatry research, consulting, teaching (post-grad), private practice, consultant to WebMD and writing self-help books. Currently, I am concentrating on writing articles and books.

Patricia also acts in an editorial capacity for Medika's mental health articles, providing invaluable input on a wide range of mental health issues.

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