Questions Raised: Are Air Marshals Prepared to Handle Mentally Ill Passengers?

Several mental health experts said law enforcement officers can use other tactics for identifying and dealing with people who are mentally ill - but they need to be trained.


The other issue at play in Wednesday's shooting - the plight of the mentally ill - puts attention on what one expert called a poorly funded mental health system that increasingly leaves people untreated.

About 2 percent of the population has a severe mental illness, but about 40 percent of those people are not getting treated, said Mary Zdanowicz, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Virginia.

Many states do not allow mentally ill people to be hospitalized involuntarily unless they risk harming themselves or others, she said.

"By law, you're letting people get on planes with severe mental illness," she said.

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Staff writers Lisa O'Neill Hill and Naomi Kresge, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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MENTAL ILLNESS

Californians who may have a diagnosable mental illness: ONE IN 5

Number who may have a serious mental illness: ONE IN 15

In California, emergency calls to sheriff offices related to a mental illness crisis: 9 PERCENT

Nationally, people with mental illness are FOUR TIMES more likely than the general public to be killed by police in justifiable homicides.

Police are more likely to be killed by a person with a mental illness than by someone with a prior arrest for assaulting police or resisting arrest.

SOURCE: CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE ANALYST, TREATMENT ADVOCACY CENTER

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COMPARING THE TRAINING REGIMENS

CALIFORNIA PEACE OFFICERS

BASIC TRAINING: A minimum of 664 hours in a police academy required, although most police academies in the state offer between 900 and 1,000 hours of instruction.

CURRICULUM: Officers learn how to use firearms, study criminal search-and-seizure laws, and learn basic police work.

SPECIALIZED TRAINING: After academy graduation, officers are partnered with field-training officers for at least 10 weeks.

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AIR MARSHALS

BASIC TRAINING: Fourteen-week program. Candidates spend first seven weeks at a training center in Artesia, N.M.

CURRICULUM: Basic law-enforcement skills.

SPECIALIZED TRAINING: Candidates spend seven weeks at a training center in New Jersey, where they learn such skills as how to work in the confined space of a passenger cabin. Also, must pass an advanced marksmanship course and spend one week training with an airline.



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