by William Skink
When I read the assessment from the Dallas Police Chief that ‘we’re asking cops to do too much in this country’ I nodded my head in vigorous agreement. Here’s the statement in context:
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
My work at the shelter doing outreach put me on the streets doing direct interventions in order to divert that 911 call and the whole expensive siren show that descends. The more impossible, absurd situations I encountered the more I sympathized with the unrealistic expectations we have of police to solve the inconvenient symptoms of broken systems.
I remember one guy in particular, a terrible alcoholic. His drinking and chronic medical conditions led to both legs being amputated. And he was a tremendous asshole when drunk.
I knew this client for years, but one night in particular stands out. I was delivering food to his motel room after a long day at work. I was delivering food because he had lost services at the shelter due to sneaking in and drinking lots of vodka. He needed the shelter because the nursing home had kicked him out for flagrant disregard of their tobacco policies.
Nursing home, homeless shelter, motel room is not an unusual progression for a client like this. What was unusual was that I showed up just as the police had arrived to remove him from the motel room. Apparently, in his drunken stupor, he had started throwing things against the wall of his room, and the family (yes, family) living in the room next door had called the police.
These are the calls cops hate. They more than likely know the guy by name, and they know how little anyone can do. The glimmer that I could help this guy was enough for them to leave it to me once I had arrived on the scene. And I had no idea what to do.
It was cold outside, so the possibility of wheeling him to the park to sleep it off was off the table. The police, who had already been called to deal with the situation, had left it to me. The shelter wasn’t an option, because there are rules that have to be upheld in even the most terminal of cases. So what could I do?
I started pushing him down Broadway as he swung his skinny arms, punching feebly behind his head at me and shouting profanities. At one point he suggested that I push him into the river. I told him that ethically that would be a problem for me, but if he was suicidal, I could wheel him to St. Pats for an assessment. I was literally excited that he was expressing the intention to harm himself because it meant that maybe he could stay in the ER overnight.
His response was that hospital security had told him he would be trespassed if he wheeled onto hospital property again without a medical reason for needing services. Bingo, I thought. Let’s get him arrested for trespassing.
And that’s ultimately what happened. I wheeled this chronic alcoholic onto St. Pats property, then talked to their security and explained the situation. He called the police, and the responding police officer was courteous and understanding because I was able to lay out the fact that the homeless shelter wouldn’t take him, the motel had kicked him out, and it was cold outside, so eventually there would be a medical need to do something if we just left him outside in his wheelchair exposed to the elements.
So the cop to took this guy to jail for trespassing.
Police and other first responders are dealing with more shit than most people can possibly imagine. That reality needs to be a big part of the conversation about how to pull cops back from the precipice of being a militarized occupying force.
A good place to start the process of pulling back would be to abandon the use of Israeli tactics and implement the Crisis Intervention Model.