Monday, January 22, 2018

California rampage shows gaps in mental health law

LOS ANGELES — Elliot Rodger's murderous rampage near Santa Barbara has tragically exposed the limitations of involuntary-commitment laws that allow authorities to temporarily confine people who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Three weeks before he stabbed and shot six people to death and then apparently took his own life, the 22-year-old was questioned by sheriff's deputies outside his apartment and was able to convince them he was calm, courteous and no threat to anyone. Local health officials sent the officers after Rodger's family expressed concern about him.

Like many other states, California has a law intended to identify and confine dangerously unstable people before they can do harm. It allows authorities to hold people in a mental hospital for up to 72 hours for observation.

To trigger it, there must be evidence a person is suicidal, intent on hurting others or so "gravely disabled" as to be unable to care for himself.

In Rodger's case, it's not clear whether the law was too porous, if deputies were inadequately trained or if they simply weren't provided enough information to ferret out how deeply troubled Rodger had become.

Rodger had also been in therapy for years, and it's not known what, if anything, authorities knew about his psychiatric care.

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