NJ State Police Training to Deal with Mentally Ill

NJ Spotlight News | December 23, 2014 | Law & Public Safety
New Jersey State Police are working with mental health organizations to improve training.

By Christie Duffy

Two mental health organizations are working with the State Police to improve training for interacting with mentally ill people.

“There is another way to deal with people. You sort of use tactics, strategy, rather than force,” said National Alliance on Mental Illness New Jersey Associate Director Phillip Lubitz.

Lubitz is with one of the groups providing training materials to the State Police. The effort comes after the 2008 death of a Newark man named Kenwin Garcia. His family suspected he was mentally ill.

Garcia died after being restrained by State Police. An autopsy found he suffered severe internal injuries but troopers reported they never struck Garcia.

“It’s unfortunate but true that it’s really this kind of incident that generally leads to, in this case the State Police. But in many departments in New Jersey and around the country, it really becomes the motivating factor for getting deeply into this kind of training,” Lubitz said.

A spokesperson for the State Police says they are not doing this as a direct result of the death of Kenwin Garcia.

Lubitz says he has tracked and read about the deaths of at least 17 mentally ill people who have been shot or killed by New Jersey police since 2008.

“You know the really sad piece of this is that I think only one of those individuals were in the act of committing a crime,” he said.

This is part of a police training film that Lubitz’s organization gave to the State Police. The scenarios depicted are based on real, local events. The police are members of the NYPD.

Ismaaiyl Brinsely, the man who allegedly shot and killed two NYPD officers over the weekend, had received psychiatric care in the past.

Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old behind the Sandy Hook tragedy, suffered from mental health issues for years.

But researchers say cases where the mentally ill become seriously violent are extremely rare. And the likelihood of a complete stranger becoming a victim is even more rare.

A study by psychiatrists at UNC Chapel Hill followed 169 people with a serious mental disorder for 30 months. They report that only 1.5 percent of their friends and family members ever became targets of threats or actual violence.

But it is also true that the police may be the most likely of all strangers to be called into a situation with an emotionally disturbed person.

According to the Department of Justice, the NYPD gets 150,000 calls every year from the emotionally disturbed. That’s one call every 3.5 minutes. The DoJ also states: 92 percent of all patrol officers have encountered a mentally ill person in crisis in the past month.

Proponents of the State Police enhancing their mental health training say not only should troopers see the injuries among the arrested decrease, but it should also minimize the rate of injury among police who regularly and voluntarily walk into these volatile situations.