Body Worn Video Steering Group
Recently, here at the BWVSG, it was noticed that with the uptake of body cameras a strange trend began to emerge. As the hours of footage clocked up there was an increase in videos of incidents involving mentally ill persons, an issue the technology has brought to light.
In Dallas, Texas, Shirley Harrison had called police dozens of times over the years to deal with the chaotic behaviour of her 38-year-old son, Jason.
When officers responded to her plea for help last June, a body camera recorded Shirley’s words as she left the house: Jason was “off the chain” and acting “bipolar schizo.” Seconds later, Harrison and the cops came face to face; police fired five shots, and the mentally unstable man crumpled.
A Dallas County grand jury declined to indict the two officers; and now the family is suing them and the city.
This disastrous encounter reflects the difficult realities of mental illness. Too often, calling the cops is the go-to option for families trying to cope. Yet by that point, many better options — options a family might not even know existed — are out of reach.
The below Californian cities have outfitted police officers with body cameras are reporting drops in use-of-force incidents, so body cameras simply illustrate the problem.
Down 72 percent in five years. Total in 2009, before cameras went into use: 2,186. Total in 2014: 611.
RIALTO (Han Bernardino County)
Down 59 percent in one year. Total in 2011, before cameras went into use: 61. Total in 2012: 25.
Down 33 percent in two years. Total in 2011, before cameras went into use: 9. Total in 2013: 6.
(Source: Chronicle reporting)
Across humanity mental health always has, and will be, a public issue that needs to be publicly addressed. Over time, the treatment of those with mental health issues has significantly improved. In the US awareness has risen since 1954.
Kathleen Weldon writes “polling reveals that Americans have a great deal of personal experience with mental illness.”
However for many Americans cuts to public funding has hit hardest in the poorest communities, and the cost to access many of the remaining open services can be too high when travel and other circumstances are a problem. Often this results in the cops being called in to deal with episodes such as that experienced by Jason Harrison, but it is not a solution to a very real problem.