New tool to help police recognize mentally ill subjects

New tool to help police recognize mentally ill subjects

EUGENE, Ore. - Denise Salisbury knows about mental illness all too well.
    
Her son Ryan had bipolar and anxiety disorder.

In November of 2006, Ryan suffered from a severe mental breakdown and threatened to kill himself.

His family called police to come help take him to the hospital, but he wouldn't make it.

According to Denise Salisbury, Ryan walked down their driveway toward police holding a knife by his side, never swinging it at police.

Police tried to stop him by shooting him with bean bags and asking him to drop the weapon, but Salisbury says it didn't do anything but provoke her son.

So they shot him.

"He was shot and killed by five rounds. And it was three o'clock in the morning, no one was around," said Salisbury. "We just felt that if the officer had been trained properly, things would have been a lot different."

Now a new statewide database could help avoid shootings like the Ryan Salisbury case.
    
People suffering from mental or physical illnesses can voluntarily register their information in the database, including details about their illness and any medications they may be taking.

If they ever have encounters with law enforcement, officers can run the person's name through the system from a police car computer.

"It will give them some descriptors that characterize or tell law enforcement officials what behaviors to look for," said Linn County Health Administrator Frank Moore. "It will also give the potential for some suggestions as to how to approach the individual."

Moore, along with State Representative Andy Olson, R-Albany, helped develop the new system. House Bill 3466 was passed in July 2009.

Olson said there were concerns from some that the system might not be secure, but he assures that it is.

"Law enforcement data system is pretty tight," he said. "I mean it's part of the Oregon State Police. It's routinely monitored on a regular basis, and it has to meet criteria, too, from federal standards."

Moore said he thinks this new system will make the difference when it comes to safety.

"I personally believe and professionally believe that this bill and how it's being inacted and written into law will ultimately save lives," he said.

Denise Salisbury said she's open to the idea of a database, but has reservations.

"It could be a good thing, first of all being voluntary. I think that's very important," she said. "But just the database itself - I think it needs to be coupled with crisis intervention training."

Linn County is the first county in the state to launch the new database.
    
Other counties could follow later this year.