1. Archive

Improving police encounters with the mentally ill

Recently there has been news coverage regarding how law enforcement handles calls involving people with mental illness and/or experiencing a psychiatric crisis. On Oct. 10, it was announced that the two leading law-enforcement agencies in Hillsborough County were going to adopt the Crisis Intervention Team model, which will give officers additional skills in how to approach mentally ill people without escalating the encounter and possibly making a bad situation worse.

CIT is considered the "best practices" model being used nationally. The 3{ years of training in Hillsborough County have resulted in more than 450 officers being instructed in how to handle mentally ill people. However, training is only half of the commitment needed to have CIT fully operational. Law enforcement agencies need to incorporate standard operating procedures into their departments' protocols in order for the trained officers to access the scene of a psychiatric emergency. The commitment by the two major law-enforcement agencies of Hillsborough County to make the training operational on the streets made the Oct. 10 announcement so important to Tampa citizens, particularly to families who have to deal daily with a person with mental illness.

More important, this training could not happen without the cooperation of community agencies such as Mental Health Care Inc., Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Tampa Police Department, ACTS, Public Defender's Office, State Attorney's Office, Homeless Coalition of Tampa, Hillsborough County Crisis Center, Hillsborough County Baker Act Advisory Committee and Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Co.

Additionally, the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County decisionmakers are at a crossroads with the advent of committing to implementing the CIT model. Discussions are currently under way, whereby CIT law-enforcement officers will have a place to take people in a psychiatric crisis for comprehensive triaging to better determine an appropriate disposition. This will ease law enforcement's burden of deciding where to take mentally ill people, which usually occurs after-hours. The creation of an assessment center would eliminate the need for law-enforcement officers to stay with someone in a psychiatric emergency for extended periods of processing. Consequently, law-enforcement personnel will be able to spend more time on actual crime prevention. This center would function as a "one-stop" facility that will be user-friendly to law-enforcement officers, as well as to those walking in and needing an assessment.

The CIT model, coupled with an adult emergency triage and assessment center, will set the standard for other communities statewide. With the appropriate partnering of the above agencies and ongoing discussions concerning Baker Act reform, future unfunded mandates may be avoided. We believe now is the time to be proactive on this and support the establishment of this comprehensive "one-stop" center.

Rick Duran, major (retired), Tampa Police Department,

and Rick Wagner, MSW, MURP co-chair, Crisis Response

and Intervention Training Committee, Tampa

The needy should behave respectably

Our agency has been in continuous operation in St. Petersburg for more than 30 years, providing transitional housing and support services for indigent, homeless adults in recovery from chronic chemical addiction and for individuals who are considered dually diagnosed.

We are dedicated to helping sincere individuals recover so they can return to the community as productive and contributing residents. We maintain rules and regulations, and insist that our residents behave responsibly and respectfully, both inside and outside of our facilities. We do a very good job for our residents, and their success rate is high. We are also, however, very sympathetic to hard-working business and homeowners who are fighting what appears to be an endless struggle against assaults by "homeless" individuals who demonstrate no respect for the property of others or for the community.

For years we have received a small grant from the city to help us cover our operating expenses. This year our request for funds was denied. Judging from the Oct. 24 article on homelessness (Rancor between homeless, downtown interests grows), it appears the city is more interested in providing services that keep people dependent and homeless than in addressing the problems of the community as a whole. It takes a lot of nerve to fly in the face of popular opinion, but pity is debilitating. The city not only has a right, but a moral obligation to demand that individuals benefiting from services behave respectably and responsibly throughout the community.

Miriam Parrish, Christian Recovery Centers Inc.,

St. Petersburg

Designate areas for the homeless

Re: Rancor between homeless, downtown interests grows, Oct. 24.

I think Rob Glazier is correct when he complains the churches are feeding the homeless in the parks in downtown St. Petersburg. The taxpayers don't want to look at derelicts when they go to enjoy the neighborhood parks and other public places. Neither should businesses have to put up with them loitering and panhandling nearby.

I feel a couple of churches in the area, whose congregations are small, should be designated as "soup kitchens" for the homeless and needy. Also, maybe they could provide reading materials and rest rooms for them. That way they would have designated areas where they aren't causing problems in the parks and other public places.

Who knows? Maybe some of them will see the "light" and try to turn their lives around.

Shirley Borcsane, Clearwater

Why a living wage makes sense

Re: Letters opposing a living wage ordinance, Oct. 26.

The letter writers presented arguments, none of which are supported by evidence from the 106 places where living wage ordinances have passed since 1993. When employees are paid a living wage, turnover, and thus training costs drop, and more "faithful" employees increase their productivity.

The result has been an improved economy. Small decreases in the total number of jobs have occurred, but this happens only among the very low-wage jobs. Taxes haven't increased due to these ordinances, and contractors, on average, have seen less than a 1 percent increase in their total costs for providing services. An unusual case did occur in San Jose, Calif., where hotels saw a 12 percent increase in salary costs. One common aspect of such ordinances links employment with already existing training programs for low-wage workers to help get them off the public dole. Small business are never affected by these ordinances, because only large public contractors are required to provide living wages.

Living wage ordinances contend that limited public dollars should not subsidize poverty-wage work. When subsidized employers pay workers less than a living wage, we taxpayers end up footing a double bill: the initial subsidy and then the food stamps, emergency medical, housing and other social services low-wage workers require to support themselves and their families even minimally. Public dollars should support those private employers who add decent, family-supporting jobs to our communities.

Ted Micceri, Tampa

How things have changed

Re: Living wage ordinance replies.

From my point of view, all the replies to Mary Jo Melone's Oct. 19 column miss the boat. When I started working in New York City in the 1950s, the minimum wage was $1 per hour. With careful budgeting, I was able to rent a modest apartment ($50 per month), have a phone, and clothe and feed myself, plus get around town on public transportation (fare: 10 cents). I even saved enough to buy a phonograph and television (no credit cards back then). If I'd wanted to continue my education, City College was basically free to any high school graduate with good marks.

Today's minimum wage does not allow for anything near the standard of living I enjoyed. Any decent housing is beyond the means of a minimum wage earner and public transportation is more costly and less efficient. Colleges are enormously expensive. I have friends working two jobs and going to school nights to try to climb out of their desperate existences.

Upward mobility is a wonderful concept, but you still need food in your belly and a roof over your head while you struggle up the ladder. Maybe some of this has to do with the fact that when I started out, the head of an average company made 40 to 50 times the wage of the lowest paid worker. Today, it is 400 times and climbing. Adding in the facts that many of our better jobs are being exported to slave-wage nations and that the minimum wage here hasn't gone up in ages, I'm beginning to think that the American Dream is fast becoming a nightmare.

And by the way, one man who can fix our expensive toys is worth a whole lot more to our society than an entire room of MBAs. Anybody who does an honest day's work deserves decent pay. I'd love to see how the CEOs would feel if they had to clean up their own garbage or fix a leak in their roof.

Jim Carling, St. Petersburg

MBAs aren't the economic key

Re: Florida needs to graduate to the MBA big leagues, by Robert Trigaux, Oct. 20.

Schools with ranked MBA programs normally want to export what they produce. How many Harvard or Wharton or Duke MBAs stay in Boston, Philadelphia or Raleigh-Durham? Trigaux states, "Florida can't grow or attract entrepreneurial companies without a stronger core of well-educated MBA grads in the state." My experience in speaking with companies that are contemplating a move to this area has been the opposite of his observations.

Companies _ large or small, high-tech, low-tech or no-tech _ always ask about our K-12 system, including technical training and the undergraduate programs available in the area. I have never been asked about where our MBA program ranked. My experience has been that the focus is on the K-12 system, community colleges, University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. It is the educational system that has evolved in Hillsborough County that is the economic engine that drives our economic development and, I suspect, in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, etc.

My second comment is that MBA programs are similar to doctoral programs. Good programs at both levels do their best to export their product, which builds the national recognition of the program whether it be in academics for Ph.Ds or the corporate world for MBAs. The University of Florida has a good MBA program that earned its way into the rankings by "exporting" its product, not by keeping it at home. They love to see nationally known firms recruit their MBA students for positions outside of Florida.

My last observation is that in the general population, "the tip of the iceberg" is the MBA degree. The remaining parts of the iceberg are the master of science programs in accounting, economics, management and information systems, and the undergraduate programs in all the business disciplines. Enrollment in these programs is "market-driven" based on demand and not "publicity-driven" based on the prestige of the institution.

My comments can be summed up in three simple equations:

MBA ranking = starting salaries + university brand name + publicity.

Economic development = diverse workers + quality education system + career opportunities.

MBA ranking (is not equal to) economic development.

Robert L. Anderson, dean, College of Business

Administration, University of South Florida,

Tampa, Sarasota and Lakeland