Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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Mentally Unstable Suspects: Dangerous Criminals or Misunderstood?

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Mentally Unstable Suspects: Dangerous Criminals or Misunderstood?
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State police are questioning the mental state of a man who they say intentionally hit and killed a state trooper on Thursday. But dealing with those who are mentally unstable is nothing new to law enforcement. Alexa Green looks into some of the dangers law enforcement come across when they come face to face with a mentally ill suspect.

As 60-year-old Almond Upton left the courthouse last Thursday, he made some unusual claims about what happened in the crash that killed State Trooper Christopher Skinner.

"This cop that got killed, I don't know how it happened. It had to be a time warp," said Upton.

"It doesn't appear to us that he was intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. Not sure what his mental state was at the time of the accident. He did make admissions that he saw the trooper and intentionally struck him," said Joseph D'Amico, State Police Superintendent.

Dealing with mentally unstable suspects is nothing new for law enforcement. Due to state cuts at mental health facilities, law enforcement agencies say more mentally ill people are winding up in jail.

"As we're experiencing a spike in mental health issues, we're seeing the state change or dismantle the mental health system. We're moving to a more community-based treatment program. And in some ways, that's good but there is a certain population that needs some in-patient mental health services and that's a concern for us," said Delaware County Undersheriff Craig DuMond.

But law enforcement agencies say they have the proper training to handle those who are mentally ill.

"Our officers are well trained and we're prepared both physically and mentally to deal with off situations. But every situation you walk into has the opportunity for some uncertainly, something unexpected," said Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler.

Unfortunately, the unexpected seems to be happening far too often.

Just two months ago, Johnson City Patrolman David Smith was shot and killed by James Clark of Greene. Clarke later died as well.

Police still do not know the motive behind the attack, but say that Clarke appeared mentally unstable when he arrived at work that day.

Broome County Sheriff David Harder says jail has become the new institution while mental health facilities continue to struggle.

"It's our responsibility. We're like the caretakers in the meantime, taking care of these people. It's our job to make sure they get their medication and become a normal citizen the best they can, But again, once they leave our institution there's nobody out there to guide them," said Broome County Sheriff David Harder.

With little to no supervision once they get out of jail, Harder questions when this cycle will ever end.

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