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COMMENTARY: Mentally ill fall through the cracks

By Gabe Pipo, retired Douglas County sheriff's deputy, Alexandria, MN

We live in a democracy, with Constitutional Rights, set forth in the Bill of Rights. This means that we have certain rights provided by the Constitution and those rights should not be violated until we infringe on the rights of others.

I just read the article in the Echo Press about our Emergency Room not being able to handle mental health cases in a crisis. I am just disgusted with this issue. Especially after the mass shooting in Las Vegas over the weekend.

Thirty years ago, I was a patrol supervisor for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and I remember having this discussion back then with our county attorney. There was some type of order coming down from the federal government to close all state hospitals and mental institutions because we were violating the rights of the mentally ill. I remember telling the county attorney that this was insane because many of these patients were a "danger to themselves and/or others," and was told that it was not my decision to make and these individuals' rights should not be violated. At the time we had two murders in recent years committed by mentally ill people in the county. Both could have been prevented if the courts and the mental health professionals would have handled things differently. I remember telling the county attorney that there would be mass murders and shootings that would occur if this continued.

Thirty years later, all the mental health workers, politicians, attorneys, judges and all the well-educated experts are still having the same discussions. Bottom line: When an individual is deemed to be a danger to themselves and or others, they need to be institutionalized for their personal safety as well as the safety of the general public and this includes the rights of the innocent bystander who gets shot or killed in a mass killing. The solution to the problem is very simple: "The public's rights come before individual rights, and it is the individual that commits the act, not the object."

Today, we can run a background check on a criminal, but we can't do a background check on the mentally ill because it is a violation of individual rights over the general public's right to "public safety." Today, we still do not have any facilities to handle the mentally ill and they can't be put in jail, and hospitals have no way of dealing with them. They just fall through the cracks and live miserable lives and terrorize people around them. This is how we protect their rights and the general public's rights in this country.

We had a better system years ago when there was more commonsense in the system.