Mental Illness v. Public Safety.

I don’t know how I initially missed this story, but it’s very sad.  Apparently a suicidal man in Batavia township managed to find himself on top of a house with a rifle.  Obviously the police were called.  It sounds like there may have even been a shot fired before they arrived:

No charges in officer-related shooting death at Batavia house

By Erika Wurst March 4, 2014 1:20PMA Batavia man died at his house at 3S303 Elfstrom Trail in September after being shot by a Kane County Sheriff’s Department sergeant. | Erika Wurst~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 5, 2014 7:51PM
The Illinois State Police and the Kane County State’s Attorney’s Office have concluded their investigation into the officer-related shooting death of a Batavia man last July.
The investigation concluded that the 20-year veteran Kane County deputy was justified in using deadly force when he shot 52-year-old Luke Bulzak to death at his home on July 8, 2013, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said Tuesday.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to 3S303 Elfstrom Trail in unincorporated Batavia Township at 11:40 a.m. that day after receiving a call about a suicidal male. Deputies were told that the man may have fired a gun.
When they arrived, deputies found Bulzak on the roof of his home with a rifle.
Sheriff’s deputies said they attempted to get Bulzak to drop his weapon, but he refused. Deputies said the man pointed the rifle toward them, and a sheriff’s sergeant shot at him…

The intersection of mental illness and “policing” is what you could call an area of extreme interest for me.  Sadly, too often people afflicted with any sort of condition affecting their normal well-being, aren’t handled in the best way by the police.  Especially when they end up on roof tops.

I’m not implying that the Kane County Sheriff’s officer who was called to this situation did anything improper.  Not that I know a whole lot about about the facts of this case, but when police are called to a man on a roof with a rifle (who may have already fired one shot) there’s going to be a tense situation that can really only end a couple of ways.  That is, of course, assuming the paper’s version of facts is true (and came from an objective source… which isn’t always the case).

What I am wondering, though, is how this might have turned out differently if your average on-the-streets patrol officer got as much training for dealing with the mentally ill as he does in firearms training, DUI detection, or any of the other matters that public has little problem funding with their tax dollars.  I’m betting that as soon as the call came in for this man, the S.W.A.T. team was getting ready to roll, and all sorts of police “resources” were being put into play. I’m betting that there was even a crisis counselor or negotiator headed towards the scene, too.  I’m not sure why they need to be called in, though.

Why not put all of these initial responders- the men and women out there in the patrol cars who are, so often, the very first people to arrive through more complete training?  Shouldn’t they all know the best way to deal with a man with Down’s Syndrome who won’t leave a movie theater, or a senile old man who doesn’t know what planet he’s on? Better yet, why not try to attract people who already have the right background into the profession?  Call it a hunch, but I’m guessing the average social worker or psychologist might be ok at dealing with people on a daily basis.

That won’t happen, though.  For whatever reason, the thinking is that police need to be modern-day warriors.  They need to be trained in the para-military arts… because it’s “them against us”.  Every one of them needs to be trained for the “worst case scenario” even if they’re in Batavia, or Elburn or Mayberry and there are already plenty of cops trained for the worst case scenario around.

I feel bad for the cop who got called to this scene and killed this man– it had to be scary as hell. I also feel bad for the man on the roof. Perhaps, someday, the general public will see the value in changing the way many of the police are trained, and we won’t have to pretend that public safety and mental illness are at odds.

Author: matthaiduk

Matt Haiduk is a criminal defense lawyer in Illinois. He loves his dog. And pizza.

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