New Bill May Lead To Arrest For Some of Arizona's Mentally Ill Population

Feb 7, 2013

State lawmakers want to make it easier for police to lock up someone who may be dangerously mentally ill. But Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports at least one legislator has some reservations.

Under current law police officers can take into custody people they observe as behaving in a way to suggest they are mentally ill and dangerous. They can be locked up for observation for 24 hours and, at that point, referred to a court for involuntary commitment if necessary. Representative John Kavanagh wants officers to be able to pick up people based not on personal observation but the reports of others. 

"Usually, it's witnesses that call the police that report the aberrant behavior," Kavanagh says. "And usually when the police officer arrives, the aberrant behavior will often stop. Many of these seriously mentally ill people have prior institutional experiences and they become extremely calm in the presence of any uniform."

But, Representative Eddie Farnsworth said he worries about detaining people based on comments from others who are not trained to spot real mental illness. He says, "we need to be really cautious that this doesn't open up some Pandora's Box that somebody who acts differently than us rises to the level of probable cause - and now we can hold them."

But, Farnsworth ended up voting for the bill which was approved Monday by the House Public Safety Committee.