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EDITORIAL: We need the police, and to help them

EDITORIAL: We need the police, and to help them

With all the protest demonstrations around the country that we’ve seen and read about this summer, perhaps the most disturbing slogan we’ve seen on signs is “Defund the Police.” No doubt there are some people on the extreme left who actually want police departments to be eliminated entirely, but they are a tiny minority and almost no one would agree to that recipe for anarchy.

We need the police, although that fact seems so obvious that we hardly need to say so. Any idea that without someone to maintain order, all God’s children would happily mind their business, no one harming anyone else, is a dream.

But the police face a whole range of situations every time someone dials 911, problems that may call for the use of force. The average citizen doesn’t want to have to deal with that, and doesn’t even want to know too much about it. We just want order restored.

But that doesn’t mean the police are the best agency to deal with all situations. Perhaps if some of the types of incidents they respond to could be handled by other professionals, that would take some of the workload off the police and the results might even be better. If this could be done on a large scale, it might even justify some “defunding” of police departments.

For instance, we’ve all seen incidents on TV, or read about them in the papers, where a mentally ill person is making a scene on the street. This person may not be violent, but something needs to be done, so we call the cops and the person winds up behind bars. But maybe a medical person or someone else trained to deal with the mentally ill would be better qualified to know what to do. The same might go for the drug-crazed person, or the homeless person who might better be steered to a shelter than to jail. 

This may sound unrealistic or even utopian, but there are small steps being taken here or there that move us in that direction, or that call out for a new approach.

In Southington, the H.O.P.E. initiative is a partnership between police and healthcare providers that allows police “to have another intervention tool available to assist people who are living with substance abuse/addiction,” Deputy Chief William Palmieri said.

H.O.P.E. (Heroin/Opioid Prevention & Education) is also a resource for friends or family member of people struggling with addiction, and operates in Southington, Berlin, Newington and New Britain.

In Waterbury, the troubling news is that school officials rely heavily on city police to respond to the behavioral troubles of pre-kindergarten and elementary school students with disabilities, a practice the state Child Advocate called “problematic.”

Police were called to Waterbury schools for pre-K through eighth grade nearly 200 times from September 2018 through March 2019, resulting in the arrests of three dozen students, according to Associate Press reports, including nine children under 12 years old.

It seems clear that the Waterbury schools are relying too heavily on the police to deal with problem students, and the Child Advocate’s office stated that schools and police should have agreements with mental health service providers to respond to student crises, and that police and paramedics should have crisis prevention teams trained in how to respond to emergencies involving children.

When and if there are organizations or agencies better equipped than the police to deal with problems such as drug abuse, mental illness, and bad behavior by school students with special needs, perhaps we will see a win-win: better results and less stress on the police. At any rate, it’s a different approach that towns, states and the nation might do well to pursue.

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