MEMBERS of the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) last week, along with a social worker and two counsellors, visited the family of a recently murdered victim, not only to help the family cope with their loss, but also to quell any potential temptation for revenge the family might be harbouring. We welcome this approach by the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force to engage persons affected by violent crime whether they may be the victims, family of the victims, family of the perpetrator(s), and/or community members.
According to police, this approach may redirect minds from criminal intent to a positive outlook.
The RSLPF says it is strengthening its use of psychosocial approaches to crime response and management, and further, that its utilization of mental health support systems has proven beneficial in the past, particularly in areas afflicted by gang-related violence.
Also of interest is the RSLPF statement that it has embarked on plans to address and amend Standard Operating Procedures to deal with its response to situations involving individuals with mental health issues.
Over the years encounters between police officers and mentally ill individuals have raised national concern and have led to calls for the police to reevaluate their approach to handling mentally challenged persons. There have been many occasions in the past when lawmen have ended up using lethal force as a last resort in their arsenal for dealing with uncontrolled aggression.
It is unquestionable that our police have been faced, and continue to be faced, with multiple challenges when confronted with individuals with mental health issues. To be fair, whilst they, and others in society, have advocated for training that prioritises de-escalation and compassion in dealing with persons with mental health issues such training on a structured basis is yet to come.
We have yet to see the establishment of a well-equipped mental health crisis response team who could be called to apprehend persons with mental health issues. The police are the first responders to incidents of violence or potential violence involving persons of unstable minds and they have made it clear that their training is primarily geared towards maintaining public safety and enforcing the law, not on addressing complex mental health situations.
The RSLPF claim that it has embarked on plans to upgrade Standard Operating Procedures to deal with issues concerning the response to situations involving individuals with mental health concerns is definitely to be encouraged and we look forward to bulletins of progress in that regard in the future.
We will hold the RSLPF to its word that it will address issues concerning its response to situations involving individuals with mental health challenges, and look forward to updates on their change of approach when it comes to confronting persons with mental issues.
Equipping the police with the tools the better to perform their primary function of protecting society benefits us all, and in particular, helps in the aim of community policing. It bears repeating, however, that solutions to societal problems are not the responsibility of only the police. We all have a responsibility and a part to play.