Psychologists are playing
a key role in community-
based teams that train police
officers to deal more safely
and effectively with calls
involving mental illness and
BY TORI D EANGELIS In 1987, a young man living in a public housing complex in Memphis, Tennessee, was threatening to stab himself and others with a knife. When police arrived, they tried to talk him down. But when the man refused to change his behavior,
the police shot and fatally wounded him.
The incident provoked public uproar, partly for racial reasons
— the young man was black and all of the police officers on
the scene were white — but also because he had a history of
mental illness. The outcry was the catalyst for a program that has
since become a model for how officers can respond safely and
effectively to calls involving people with serious mental illnesses
such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression.
“Sometimes the accident has to happen before the danger
light goes on,” as retired police Maj. Sam Cochran, the original
coordinator of the Memphis team, puts it.
Today, there are about 2,800 of these programs — known