March 4, 2017
It was just another Monday when a man walked up to the parking lot of a Rosewood grocery store – naked.
He was not combative or acting erratic, Columbia police officers said. He was just standing there around 7 p.m., in mid-January. Officers would later find his clothes about a mile away, near Devine Street.
“He was looking up at the sky, and saying he was waiting on a sign,” said Capt. Christopher Roberts, the area’s region commander for the Columbia Police Department. “Officers talked to him accordingly, in a calm way.”
Officers determined the man was suffering from an episode related to his mental illness. Instead of being arrested, he was taken to a hospital, Roberts said.
Roberts attributed the response to training Columbia police officers undergo as part of their recertification process. It’s the kind of training mental health advocates are hoping to expand to all of the state’s law enforcement agencies through proposals making their way through the Legislature.
Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, sponsor of the Senate bill, said it’s unfair to place law enforcement officers in situations they’re not trained to deal with when they’re confronted with a mentally ill person.
“This is to not try to deal with the issue after an arrest, but actually try to help our law enforcement officers and our mentally ill before things escalate,” Sheheen said. “The goal here is to train all law enforcement in de-escalation techniques, and how to cope with people who aren’t necessarily criminals, but suffer from mental illness.”