Roy Taylor On...

POSITION PAPERS

Mental Health

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Many individuals with mental illness also suffer from substance abuse, homelessness, and engage in criminal behavior. Unfortunately, as with mental health treatment, resources for substance abuse treatment and assistance with homelessness have not kept pace with the demand. When people experience some combination of mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness break the law, they are typically arrested. This has resulted in a growing population of inmates with mental illness placing tremendous pressure on county jails. 

In 2005, the number of mentally ill inmates in jails and prisons in the United States was more than 1.25 million.[i] Fifty-six percent of inmates in state prisons, 64% of inmates in local jails, and 45% of inmates in federal prisons reported having had a men­tal health problem within the previous 12 months.[ii]

When people with mental illness are arrested, especially those who are homeless, it is often for minor offenses such as trespassing, public urination, open container violations, or disorderly conduct. Even if they are expe­riencing a mental health crisis, jail is some­times the only available place to take them. Some may stay in jail for months, waiting for a hospital bed after being deemed incompe­tent to stand trial. 

The inmates who come to the county jail with severe mental illness are the most dangerous people the detention officers will deal with. Most detention officers will admit that they would rather take the most hardened criminal over a severely mentally ill individual who is in jail for a minor misdemeanor. 

Incarceration is not a cure for mental illness and presents an ongoing public safety challenge, yet it is often the only option law enforcement has at the time of arrest. This “easy button” approach to deal­ing with the mental health challenges in our community—which is the reality for most sheriffs’ offices in the United States—is a huge waste of resources, does little to help people with mental illness, and shifts a huge amount of liability to law enforcement. Because, it takes specially trained staff to handle and treat people with serious mental illness.

 

Upon being elected Wake County Sheriff, I already understand the budget constraints and increasing demands on our resources, as well as the enormous liability my office faces from our population of mentally ill inmates. Some of the investments I intend to make will include increasing the hours of cover­age for a mental health counselor; making telepsychiatry available to those in need; and having a medi­cated assisted treatment program. 

If elected Sheriff of Wake County, I will also change our intake processing to include screening for mental illness and suicidal ideation. I will implement a new inmate classi­fication system, which includes additional levels of screening for mental illness and specific housing options for those deemed to have a serious mental illness. I will also increase inmate program offerings to include anger manage­ment and employment literacy skills, to have inmates learn coping skills and become employable while in custody to reduce recidivism. 

Diversion strategies will also be developed that will keep some indi­viduals accused of low-level, non-violent offenses out of the jail altogether and instead place them in community-based programs that are better positioned to provide the type of treatment services that these individuals need. 

Providing mental health services traditionally has not been a core mission of the sheriff’s office, because the jail has custody of most inmates for only a relatively short time it does not have an opportunity to make a lasting impact. However, I realize that for the safety of inmates, jail staff members, and the community—As Sheriff, I have a responsibility for assisting persons with mental illness that can­not be shirked. I have to move from a traditional mindset of temporarily warehousing large numbers of individuals, to one that accepts and embraces the role of treatment provider and public safety guardian. 

 

[i]“Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (NCJ 213600).

September 2006. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf.

[ii]“Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates.” Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report (NCJ 213600).

September 2006. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf.

Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs)

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Many new technologies are changing American law enforcement. One of them is body-worn cameras (BWCs). These simple video cameras are little more than a rugged version of the camera on your smartphone. Yet these devices have the potential to transform policing for the better, by creating video records of incidents that Deputies encounter, and how they respond to them.

If elected Wake County Sheriff, I intend to implement BWCs both in the patrol division and the jail. I anticipate, based on past studies, that they will change the behavior of Deputies and members of the public in a positive manner leading to fewer use-of-force incidents and complaints. As well as improving transparency and accountability of the Sheriff’s Office that will aid in building better relationships with county residents.

A 2018 study found that more than one-third of American law enforcement agencies have already deployed BWCs to some or all of their officers, and another 50% currently have plans to do so.[i]  It also found that a large majority of departments with BWCs are happy and would recommend them to other law enforcement agencies.

The study found that the most important reason given for adopting BWCs, by over nine in 10 agencies, was to promote accountability, transparency, and legitimacy.[ii]  This objective demonstrates a strong desire among agencies to build trust and foster relationships with their communities and to determine if they [law enforcement] are meeting this goal by ensuring that their practices are consistent with the expectations and values of the community. 

The belief that BWCs can improve the behavior of Deputies and members of the public theoretically means lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Office would also be reduced. If Deputies and community members, knowing that their actions are being recorded, behave more civilly toward each other, many types of incidents may naturally tend to de-escalate, rather than escalate into physical conflict or other actions that could result in litigation. Many agencies with BWCs have reported that some public complaints, which might otherwise have escalated into a civil lawsuit, were withdrawn after the complainant learned that BWC footage of the incident existed.[iii]

 

[i]Police Executive Research Forum. (2018). Cost and benefits of body-worn camera deployments.

[ii]Police Executive Research Forum. (2018). Cost and benefits of body-worn camera deployments.

[iii]Miller, L., & Tolliver, J. (2014). Implementing a body-worn camera program: Recommendations and lessons learned. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Evidence-Based Policing

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An innovative leader never stops looking for ways to get better. One might wish for a big discovery — a “silver bullet” that solves all problems and increases performance for all time — but the reality is that people come and go, technology evolves, new laws are enacted, and new social issues arise. Every law enforcement agency has to adapt to changing internal and external conditions. Merely surviving can be quite a challenge for some organizations in turbulent environments, but the real objective should be to improve, not just survive.

As Sheriff of Wake County, I will implement evidence-based policing as the main driver of continuous improvement in my office. The Sheriff’s Office will keep getting better if it focuses on the multiple bottom-line outcomes of law enforcement, such as crime, disorder, fear, discrimination, homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse, morale, stress, burnout, and injustice by relying on data to systematically measure how things are going, analyze problems that are encountered, evaluate current practices and test new ones, and look for evidence throughout the law enforcement profession about what works best. Nothing is guaranteed, but adding data, analysis, research, and evidence to law enforcement experience and professional knowledge is most likely to produce positive results in the face of ever-changing conditions.

The Deputies and Detention Officers who do the work of the organization are most aware of any inefficiencies and reasons for weak performance. I want to inspire and reward them for identifying problems and creating solutions to take full advantage of this talented workforce and enjoy sustained achievement across the spectrum to provide the best possible service to our community. 

 

I intend to keep the Sheriff’s Office focused on what matters, learning from errors to prevent them from happening again so that we can offer the best service possible to the public. Otherwise, mistakes are bound to be repeated, which cuts into effectiveness, continuous improvement, and customer satisfaction.

Homelessness in Wake County

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The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that communities receiving federal funds to reduce homelessnessconduct an annual count of all sheltered homeless individuals, and a count every other year of unsheltered homeless individuals. These counts are called “Point-in-Time” (PIT) counts because they focus on the numbers of homeless persons on a single night in January. The PIT counts are important in helping communities to determine the extent of homelessness, and they provide data for comparison across years.The PIT count of unsheltered homeless persons has limitations because counting unsheltered homeless persons is more difficult than counting populations of home­less shelters. In 2019, North Carolina had 5,495 people in shelters and 2,268 unsheltered.[i]

 

Egon Bittner (1967), noted that the general public may turn away from homeless per­sons, but law enforcement officers do not have that option. They must engage with and protect people who are homeless. In doing so, officers come to see homeless persons as individuals with names and stories, and in many cases dreams for a better future. Officers frequently help people obtain meals, lodging, employment, direct them to welfare and health services and aid them in various other ways.[ii]

These acts of kindness and intervention by individual law enforcement officers will not solve the problem of homelessness in North Carolina. But for many individuals, experienc­ing homelessness, and communities concerned about the problem, officers’ actions can be an important first step. How law enforcement agencies and their partners build on that foundation will go a long way toward determining how successful they will be at reducing homelessness and improving the quality of life in their communities. 

 

While the nature of homelessness has not changed very much, there has been a change in how law enforcement agencies respond to it. As Sheriff of Wake County, I see my role as taking the lead and finding innovative solutions, which will involve multi-faceted activities with social service agencies, other government departments, as well as non-government partners to implement direct outreach to homeless individuals, building partnerships with a wide range of service providers, and encouraging my deputies to be resourceful and to show compassion for homeless persons.

 

There but by the grace of God, go I.[iii]

 

[i] HUD 2019 Continuum of Care Homeless Assistance Programs Homeless Populations and Subpopulations

[ii] Bittner, Egon. (1967). The Police on Skid-Row: Study of Peace Keeping. American Sociological Review, Vol. 32, No. 5.

[iii] John Bradford (circa 1510–1555)

PAID FOR BY COMMITTEE TO ELECT ROY TAYLOR SHERIFF