Pima deputies gear up mental health unit
Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Newtown, Connecticut---Aurora, Colorado---and here in Tucson on January 8th---out of control mental illness played a role on mass murder.
Now the Pima County Sheriff's Department has a special unit dedicated towards making sure the mentally ill get the treatment they need.
When troubled minds turn to murder, it often seems mental health treatment might have prevented the death and grief.
January 8th gunman Jared Loughner, Aurora Colorado theater shooter James Holmes, and Connecticut school shooter Adam Lanza, all showed mental health issues.
Pima Sheriff's deputies Paul Dietzel and Stephen Howell work to get help for troubled minds before they lash out to hurt or kill.
Deputy Howell says, "There are a silent majority out there who need help that we don't know about because we don't learn about them through a 911 call. These people now, we're learning about through crisis intervention, through mental health providers, through their neighbors, through health care providers and we can go out and get them the help they need."
They are with the department's new Mental Illness Support Team.
They enforce court orders to make sure patients get the treatment the order requires.
Early this month, a reorganization freed the deputies to do mental health work full time. They now have a civilian investigator to help them learn as much as possible about the patient before they knock on his door.
The work can be dangerous but they can usually persuade the patient to come in voluntarily.
Deputy Dietzel says, "We always keep in mind that the person is probably angry, probably fearful, probably not trusting us so that's why we try initially to keep it as low key as possible. We only take it to the point of using force when it's absolutely necessary."
One of the weakest links in the system is out of the deputies' hands. That is the reluctance many people have to ask for help when they know someone needs it.
Getting help can be a matter of working through your doctor. In more urgent cases you can call 911 or work through a hospital emergency room.