Proposed AZ law would make it easier for police to compel mental health reviews

CREATED Feb. 7, 2013

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Reporter: Craig Smith

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - In a bid to prevent violence, Arizona state lawmakers want to make it easier for police to force people with mental health problems into treatment.

This law would be a big change because it would no longer require officers to see someone's condition for themselves.
    
If passed- police could pull someone in for a mental health hearing and possible treatment based on what someone else says about them.

As the law stands now, Police need to see strange behavior with their own eyes before they can take someone in for a mental health review and a court hearing.
   
But State Representative John Kavanaugh, who was a police officer with the New York City Transit Police, wants officers to be able to decide strange behavior  someone else sees can be reason enough.
    
Kavanaugh says his experience as a police officer tells him the sight of a uniform often makes a disturbed person calm down temporarily and disguise the behavior an officer needs to see.

KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith said to Representative Kavanaugh: "Some people have expressed some concern that this might lower the standard to the point where people may be detained and committed capriciously, improperly, needlessly.

Rep. Kavanaugh: "This does not lower the standard at all.  The standard remains probably cause that the person due to mental illness is a danger to themselves or others.  So I'm keeping the standard of probably cause there."
    
Representative Kavanaugh says Arizona requires police to have three hours of training in how to deal with the mentally ill.  He has faith that will help officers make the right judgments.
     
Clarke Romans of the National Alliance on Mental Illness thinks sometimes people do need to be detained and forced to have a mental health exam but he's not sure Kavanaugh's bill is the right approach.

He says, "An officer being told hey, somebody down the street said he'd like to kill me, is the officer going to go down and take that person into custody, is that probable cause.  I think it's way too vague."

Dr. Romans thinks three hours of training is not enough to help officers make the judgments they'd need to make under this bill, but he would trust that power to officers who have forty hours of advanced crisis intervention training. Some officers in Pima and Maricopa Counties do have that training.