To the editor:
How many ways can you drop a ball? In Florida and Broward County, the endless discussion in the news media has come up with quite a few. Cowardly police, for example, who could have saved lives by acting immediately. An incompetent sheriff who has mastered the art of shifting the blame to others. A sheriff’s department which ignored what was learned from many visits to the shooter’s home due to his infractions. Not to mention the FBI fumble.
This week, I learned of another ball they dropped. Florida has a law that could have gotten early psychological examination and treatment of the shooter, possibly preventing the mass murder: the Baker Act.
“The Baker Act allows for involuntary examination (what some call emergency or involuntary commitment). It can be initiated by judges, law enforcement officials, physicians, or mental health professionals. There must be evidence that the person:
- possibly has a mental illness (as defined in the Baker Act).
- is in danger of becoming a harm to self, harm to others, or is self-neglectful (as defined in the Baker Act).
“Examinations may last up to 72 hours after a person is deemed medically stable and occur in over 100 designated receiving facilities statewide.
“There are many possible outcomes following examination of the patient. This includes the release of the individual to the community, a petition for involuntary inpatient placement, what some call civil commitment, involuntary outpatient placement, what some call outpatient commitment or assisted treatment orders, or voluntary treatment if the person is competent to consent to voluntary treatment and consents to voluntary treatment. The involuntary outpatient placement language in the Baker Act took effect as part of the Baker Act reform in 2005.”
As it happens, Kansas has similiar law: the Care and Treatment Act for Mentally Ill Persons.
I’m not sure whether the Kansas law is as strong as the Florida law, or vice versa. In Florida, according to published information, a policeman may with sufficient cause arrest and transport a subject to see a psychiatrist for emergency observation. The psychiatrist may initiate treatment which may end up in the patient being involuntarily hospitalized.
The same is true in Kansas. Quoting from a Kansas statute, “Any law enforcement officer who has a reasonable belief formed upon investigation that a person is a mentally ill person and because of such person's mental illness is likely to cause harm to self or others if allowed to remain at liberty may take the person into custody without a warrant.The officer shall transport the person to a treatment facility where the person shall be examined by a physician or psychologist on duty at the treatment facility …”
After the emergency detention, a judge may get involved to follow up on the psychiatric evaluation.
Is this law enforced? Is it effective? I don’t know and can’t find any statistics about it.
I’d like to see the Kansas Legislature review the law defining how we can deal with dangerous and potentially mentally ill persons. They should make certain the law is still relevant in our ever-changing world. They should make certain the law is applied throughout our state. It isn’t guns we need to control, it’s the people who may insanely use them.
In particular, our law enforcement officials need to be diligent, and when they encounter potentially dangerous persons, have them evaluated. Lives may be saved.