Law Enforcement Raise Concerns over Deeds' Health Reform Proposals

By: Chris Stover Email
By: Chris Stover Email

January 27, 2014

State Sen. Creigh Deeds is continuing his push for mental health reforms in the General Assembly one day after taking the issue on the national stage.

But there are some concerns with his proposals to improve care for patients.

Deeds gave an emotional interview to 60 Minutes on Sunday, reflecting on the morning that his son attacked him.

"And he just kept coming at me," Deeds said in the interview. "I said, 'Gus, I love you so much.' I said, 'Don't make this any worse than it is.' He just kept coming at me."

Deeds' 24-year-old son Gus died by suicide after the November attack. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Now, Deeds is pushing mental health reforms in the General Assembly. Among his proposals is a plan to expand the length of time for an emergency custody order from six hours to 24 hours.

But some say that's too long.

"We have to find a balance," said John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs Association. "We also have to find a way to free these deputy sheriffs up."

The VSA says Deeds' proposal could take a patrol officer off the streets without a replacement. The ECO requires a sheriff's deputy or police officer to accompany a patient to the hospital and to see the process through.

"Other states have 24 hours, but other states also have beds, hospital beds," Jones said. "In Virginia, we don't have beds, so the deputy sheriffs sit with these patients."

In Charlottesville, an officer assigned to an ECO is usually off patrol duty for one to two hours.

"It ties an officer up, takes them away from the street," said Lt. Ronnie Roberts of Charlottesville Police. "It's labor intensive, resource intensive."

But for some smaller sheriff's departments and law enforcement agencies, the time spent away from patrol could be much longer. If the minimum is raised to 24 hours, that would translate to a lot of resources missing for a number of departments.

"The 24-hour period should be more of a medical issue as opposed to the law enforcement side of it," Roberts said.

It would likely be up to police and sheriff's departments to cover the cost.

"You have to remember a lot of agencies are stretched thin for personnel," Roberts said. "It impacts the way we deliver services."

Deeds' proposals still need to work their way through the General Assembly.

The senator is continuing his national push on Monday night, as he's scheduled to do an interview with CNN.

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