Friday, July 31, 2020

The Right Tool

Dina Solman, of Graham, Washington has a problem. Her granddaughter/adopted daughter Jasmine, who "has been diagnosed with ADHD, autism, oppositional defiant disorder, disruptive mood disorder and reactive attachment disorder, among others" and "has run away, started fires, kicked holes in the wall, choked her sister as well as Solman and has been suicidal and homicidal."

“I have to walk on eggshells, because I don't know how she's going to react,” Solman said. “When I say something, when I do anything that makes her mad, you don't know [what she’ll do].”

Now, she just calls the police. And waits.
Kids desperate for inpatient psych care have few options in WA
Ms. Solman is left calling the police because there aren't any psychiatric beds available for Jasmine to be admitted to. But are armed officers really the best people to respond to things when Jasmine goes off the rails? After all, the child is only 11.

And this is the piece that's quickly been forgotten about in the "Defund the police" debate. Shouting matches over whether reducing the police presence in minority neighborhoods will result in some sort of renaissance or a descent into lawlessness and chaos are sexy, and allow people to wave their virtue flags high, but a large part of the original point is that the police are often called upon, and funded, to handle situations that don't require an armed response, while more appropriate resources go begging for money. Money is funneled to the police to pay them to deal with situations that they aren't trained to deal with. And what are they going to do with an 11-year-old who's violently acting out? The police don't have inpatient youth psychiatric beds, either. And they're not cheap: Helen Caldart, a special education advocate the Special Education Advocates League, who works to place children in facilities that can manage their behaviors sees prices basically start at $10,000 per month, and go up from there. That's higher than the median and mean family incomes in the United States.

The lost angle of the "Defund the police" debate is this question: Are we directing resources to the police when we should be directing those resources to other places? Are we expecting the police to not only be specialists in their own areas of expertise, but generalists in a variety of other areas where specialists are needed? And it's not a given that this is the wrong way to go about it. If defunding 10 police officers only gets 10 specialists when 25 are needed, going with the 10 police officers might be the best of the available options. But the current debate, driven by what comes across as a combination of anger and fear, seems incapable of addressing the question at this point, caught up in the perception of a high-stakes battle over right and wrong.

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