Help or Harm?
Illustrations By:Dwayne "Dubelyoo" Wright
Warning: The following content includes descriptions of physical violence.
This is the story of a 39 year old man living with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. His neighbors describe him as a good dude and say they have never felt threatened by him.
The man has stopped taking his medication and needs medical attention. His mother requests the assistance of officers trained to interact with the mentally ill to help get him to the hospital.
The police arrive.
The median salary of two police officers who were hired to handle the deluge of daily calls––some calls actually needing police intervention but many, many more calls that do not. Source
The man’s mother walks out of the house repeating that her son is bipolar and schizophrenic.
The man appears in the doorway spinning a screwdriver between his fingers.
The officers immediately draw their guns. Not their tasers. Not their batons. Their guns.
They killed my son!
The officers scream at him. “Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!”
The man continues to spin the screwdriver. Then…
Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!
Within a few seconds, he is shot five times: twice in his chest, twice in his back, and once through his arm—but that bullet also lands in his chest. The officers took longer to shout their commands than they gave him time to comply.
His mother screams, “Oh, they killed my son! Oh, they killed my son!”
He lies face down, bleeding to death in his driveway. The officers stand over him, guns still drawn, shouting. “Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon!”
After a few minutes, one officer walks up and pulls the screwdriver from beneath his body. Then, the officer puts the man’s hands behind his back—a man who's already been shot five times.
While the officers in this story were never charged or disciplined, the average amount 2 problem officers cost a city police agency a year. This average amount only accounts for the payouts to plaintiffs in citizen lawsuits and does not include additional costs like litigation expenses, insurance fees, overtime to cover suspended officer duties, and other costs incurred by the jurisdiction.
The national average is roughly $35,000 a year per "bad apple." Source
The man’s body is taken to the morgue for an autopsy. The police department releases the body camera footage of the incident, but the officers are not indicted on criminal charges. The family files a wrongful death lawsuit, but it is thrown out by a federal judge. A mentally ill man and his family never get the help they need.
He could still be alive today if reconsidered how we invest our money.
Total Cost of Police
A plan to reallocate.
These are nonviolent alternatives to policing that could have been used in this scenario. Together, these alternatives are still less than the cost of this story’s police intervention.
Mental Health First Responders$183K
Cost for 3 workers on staff
Social workers, therapists, and mental health experts don’t need to be end-of-the-line resources—they can also be first responders. When unarmed, trained experts can respond to health episodes, de-escalate, and more quickly determine the care that is needed. Source
Outpatient Health Treatment$5k
Cost of 3 month program
Mental health is health, but it’s often not treated that way by the healthcare system. A person’s insurance may not cover mental health care, and a person having an episode who goes to the emergency room may not get the treatment they need.
By lowering the barrier and expanding access to treatment, outpatient mental health centers are a proactive option to help people care for themselves or their loved ones. Source
Mental Health First Aid Training$500
Cost of first aid training for 60 people
First aid training sessions for people who know and love someone with mental illness can give the community more tools to support itself and prevent the need to call 911. With this training, the goal is to make mental health first aid skills as common as CPR.
Attendees learn how to respond to depression and mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, psychosis, and substance-use disorders. Private training may be cost-prohibitive for individuals, so providing a public option or grants can ensure these trainings are accessible. Source
Imagine What Could Have Been
How can you rewrite this story?
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