Chief Flynn: “We are not doing enough for the mentally ill”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said during a news conference on Thursday afternoon, May 1st, "We are not doing enough for the mentally ill."

Dontre Hamilton

Dontre Hamilton

Flynn made the statement after identifying the man shot and killed by a police officer at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 30th. That suspect is 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton.

Hamilton had a history of mental illness and criminal activity, and Chief Flynn says the system in place to help people like Hamilton, who suffer from mental illness, is failing. That's putting both police officers and the public in danger.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that once again, a violent confrontation occurred on the street between an officer and a violent, combative, mentally ill individual," Chief Flynn said.

Wednesday's incident began around 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday when a foot patrol officer on his beat learned of “trouble with a suspect” in Red Arrow Park.

The officer encountered Hamilton laying on the ground. A witness tells police the officer helped him to his feet — and was attempting to conduct a field interview. The officer was patting Hamilton down when a struggle ensued. The officer withdrew his wooden baton to defend himself, and Chief Flynn says Hamilton took the officer’s baton from him and began striking him in the head. That’s when the officer withdrew his service weapon — a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson — and fired “several shots” at Hamilton — striking him several times, ultimately causing his death.

Chief Flynn indicated during the news conference that Hamilton was diagnosed with schizophrenia -- and his family said he was recently acting strangely.

"My understanding from the family is he was in a state of crisis. We'll never know what was going through his mind when the officer was patting him down. We don't know," Chief Flynn said of Hamilton during a news conference on Thursday.

Chief Flynn said Hamilton's arrest history could be directly connected to his mental health issues.

In fact, Chief Flynn says MPD had an interaction with Hamilton last year. In that incident, Chief Flynn says Hamilton stabbed himself on both sides of his neck -- telling police voices told him to kill himself -- and them.

Hamilton went into emergency detention, and he was diagnosed with Schizophrenia.

The problem of mental illness is much bigger than just Hamilton, as we all know.

"We're not demonizing the mentally ill. They suffer, their families suffer and it is an extraordinary social and public health problem," Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said every year, the Milwaukee Police Department responds to more than 7,000 calls involving mentally ill individuals. That's an average of about 26 calls a day.

Since 2005, there have been over 50,000 emergency detentions brought by MPD to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex -- according to Chief Flynn.

There, they are often evaluated, and then released.

"Families suffer, individuals suffer, and people are at risk because individuals cannot get the treatment they need to lead functioning lives. It's clear there's a broken system. For all its other failings, it's failing particularly adults in mental health crisis who have a tendency to behave violently when off their medicines. Violence is a direct result of these people's untreated mental illness. They are on the street. They have nowhere to go. Their families cannot help them. There seems to be nothing anybody can do for them except to dial 911," Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn says leaving the mentally ill to their own devices and not getting them the treatment that they need puts their lives at risk, as well as the lives of others.

Chief Flynn says jails have become "defacto mental health institutions" due to cuts in mental health services. Chief Flynn says state, county and city budgets have been slashed across the country, and it seems one of the first things to be cut is services for the mentally ill.

Chief Flynn says three of the four fatal police shootings last year involved mentally ill suspects who were armed -- including a mentally ill person shot and killed inside Milwaukee's downtown Transit Center in November.

Chief Flynn went on to say 25 percent of his officers are trained on crisis intervention -- and every member undergoes training on how to handle the mentally ill. But Flynn said, "We are a first response. We are not treatment providers. We are not a solution to this problem."

Chief Flynn said Wisconsin "needs to be a leader in identifying holes in the current system that can help us deal with people that are at risk to themselves, their families, the general public and police officers. We have to do better."

Flynn wrapped up by saying, "We have a moral obligation to the mentally ill. If we are unwilling to meet our moral obligation, we must protect the lives of those who come in contact with these people, including officers."

As for the officer involved in Wednesday's shooting, Chief Flynn said he has been treated and released for his injuries. He said the officer is "very shaken up emotionally" -- that this was a traumatic incident for him.

Milwaukee County's Behavioral Health Division provides care and treatment to adults, children, and adolescents with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual disabilities through both County-operated programs and contracts with community agencies.  Services include intensive short-term treatment through our crisis services and inpatient services, as well as a full array of supportive community services for persons with serious mental illness and substance use disorders.

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16 comments

  • bderk.

    We need more funding and housing resources to assist people with mental health issues. I work with them everyday. The government waste money on war in other countries, but yet we can’t help our own people with mental health and homelessness in this country. Not a big fan of Flynn but I do agree with with. I am praying for the officer and the family of Mr. Hamilton!

  • Karen

    ok David you are right he is justified, but could you have some compassion for the dead? Does anyone in your family suffer from mental illness? If not count yourself lucky. It’s hard to deal with and their are very limited resorces for people who have mental health issues even more so…homeless people.

  • Stephen

    how fn convenient when its a POLICE shooting then oh its a mental health issue, otherwise if this was a citizen defending himself against someone, then OH WAIT CONCEAL CARRY is vigilantism, what typical two sided COMMIE BS!! FU FLYNN!!!!!

  • Tiffany

    This story makes me so MAD! As a mental health professional that delivers medications to the mentally ill and with all of my clients that have schizophrenia I understand this situation is difficult but preventable! The news story talks about lack of resources for the mentally ill yes, but this isn’t the real biggest issue! Its the families that do what they r supposed to and ask for help when they know their loved one needs help and are not taking their meds and their request of help go on deaf ears therefore never get the help because the system failes them! This is the issue! The county drops the ball and then it’s too late! I can do my job, but if the county does do their its pointless! Its the county’s regulation and guidlines that won’t redetain someone or won’t issue a commitment! The county is not supportive in doing their part when u do yr part! Well now its too late! This is so irritating

  • jeb Koolaid

    If it is a threat to society……..kill it. As a man who is married to a psychiatrist, I know it is a BS profession. Yeah…let’s fix that brain. We can’t even cure a common cold!

  • RN that cares

    As a medical professional working at the county jail I see people every day that come through the revolving door year after year. Homeless, hopeless, helpless in their substance abuse with an underlying mental illness. Under-served…untreated. Let us not forget they have little to no resources. We leave them to their own devices to flounder. I see them back time and again. Looking older, more haggard each and every incarceration a little less in touch with reality. This man was someones father, brother, son and friend…a human being, worthwhile. Let this be our opening…an opening of the door. The door to the other side of caring. Caring when we awaken and see the issue at hand. The day when we start using resources for housing, clothing and shelter. Maslows Theory of Hierarchy……today we stop and listen, listen to what we are going to do to meet basic needs of the mentally ill besides incarceration before we buy any unnecessary items for the county. Today we buy basic needs for the mentally ill so they may have that chance to live…..really live! A human being lost his life yesterday to violence, intolerance and misunderstanding. When do we begin to rebuild from this tragedy so he never forgotten, so his death is not in vain. If only 25% of the officers are trained in crisis prevention could the outcome been different if it were one of those trained officers…..or perhaps a team who came to assist? We will never fully know but one could speculate it may have! Mothers teach your children to love everyone but embrace the different ones…..they are the ones who need us most!

  • 2econd

    let the finger pointing begin. oh, Barrett and Flynn, do uchbags. both of you aholes need to go.

  • Ms Elizabeth (@festachick)

    Bring back Sanitariums. Not talking about the ones many years ago where torture/abuse occured. The TRULY mentally ill do not need to be walking around in society if they are threats to the public. Lets start by using the $150 million Trolley Tommy wants for his stupid trolley,then take the free handouts of 1/2 of able-bodied Milwaukeeans who leech off the Gov because they are too lazy to get a job.

    • m a kamadulski

      Most mentally ill are not a threat. They cannot function because their minds don’t work properly and extremely vulnerable to exploitation. I agree we need psychiatric hospitals that can house this population but it all goes back to noone wants to spend the money on them.

  • livinglife

    What about a taser? Dont all MPD carry them? Was it really necessary to use his gun? This man didn’t deserve to be KILLED!

  • m a kamadulski

    My sister is mentally ill and like many others is so sick she doesn’t understand she’s ill and refuses all medications. We do our best to keep her off the street and fed and clothed, but you’ve no idea what it’s like to deal with a broken mind. There’s really no help for her because she refuses treatment and we’ve no way to force her to accept it. The mental health system in this country is almost nonexistant. It’s extremely frustrating and discouraging. The mentally ill are a small population the government can sacrifice. I believe they hope they will die in the street so they won’t be need money spent on them.

  • m a kamadulski

    Rn that cares has a lot of valid points but where we live crisis intervention is pretty much a joke. There is NO MONEY to treat these people, so when crisis has been called for my sister they usually do nothing. Only a few times have they kept her and if you’ve no insurance and the hospital knows it’s not getting paid even if you get them admitted to a psych ward they only keep them 48 hours the minimum amount of time in Illinois then kick them out into the street.

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