Mental illness, guns and what DPD Chief Craig says must change

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Detroit Police Chief James Craig’s officers and community members have been put in dangerous and deadly situations when dealing with people with untreated mental illness. 

Craig says he's passionate about this, calling the system broken. It is an abstract idea - until it's your officer who has been shot or your father. That was the case for Arin Johnson whose Detroit Police Officer father was shot in the head after a man with mental illness and a gun started shooting.

"It's hard when it happens, it's like you are in shock," said Arin Johnson.

Shock, over the kind of call law enforcement families know they can get but pray to God they never do.

"It was something where he was performing his job and helping people," Arin said.

Waldis Johnson, a Detroit police officer, was shot in the head responding to a domestic violence call.

FOX 2: "Do you think counseling, medication, that might have made the difference between this man shooting your father. How do you process that?"

"It's hard because that's such a simple thing to put resources in place for people," Arin said. "Because we have pretty much everything for people who have health problems."

In less than a year later it was like de ja vu. Officer Glen Doss Jr. was going to a domestic violence call to a man whose family said was mentally ill and off his meds. He was armed with a gun and shot Doss in the head.

Doss' son now has to grow up without his daddy.

"The public wants something done," said Chief James Craig.

Craig took some time to exclusively lay out specific ideas - especially to deal with treating the chronically mentally ill what he calls "The biggest public safety issue that we face."

Every month Craig says DPD is getting about 500 calls involving the mentally ill. Craig estimates between 100 and 125 of those have a weapon.

"We talk, more conversation, and nothing," Craig said. "I'm the police chief, not a mental health professional."

A 72-hour holding for mentally ill suspects at hospitals are a Band-Aid - not a cure.

"This is not a criticism of that initial work," Craig said. "But once they are released, treatment must continue."

FOX 2 wants to keep the conversation going with the chief and the community to help fix this. Chief Craig laid out three suggestions:

1: "Sustained treatment that's funded," he said.

2: "Being able to take that mentally ill person that we have contact with and then move them to a situation where they can have supervised and regular treatments," Craig said. "Maybe not in a facility."

3: "We need to be able to communicate," he said. "So that when we're confronted with a person who we'll say is chronically mentally ill, and what we are finding are gaps in communication. There is duplication of work, the bottom line is its ineffective."

Craig says there is a need for funding at the state and national level for more mental health, a de-funding that happened in the early 1990s has been a problem for officials. He said we need to ask Michigan's gubernatorial candidates about what their take on this is, because there can be solutions at the state level.