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Editorial: CHP beating shows cops need more training to deal with mentally ill

We still don’t know all the details about how an unnamed Highway Patrol officer came to be atop a severely mentally ill woman on July 1, pummeling her in the head alongside a freeway in Los Angeles.

Though the California Highway Patrol has six investigators on the case, it will still be some time before the story of what happened can be told.

But we do know this: The officer who was seen repeatedly hitting 51-year-old Marlene Pinnock after he found her wandering barefoot on the Santa Monica Freeway had just recently completed a six-hour course designed to help officers deal safely with mentally ill people. That’s an extra six hours on top of the mandatory six hours he took as part of his academy training, according to Joe Farrow, the commissioner of the California Highway Patrol.

But, still, perhaps not enough.

Farrow sat down with The Bee’s editorial board Monday to talk about the beating, which drew widespread and harsh condemnation of the CHP after a video by a passing motorist surfaced. It was part of an admirably transparent process he’s initiated since the incident. And while Farrow wouldn’t say whether the officer in that case violated his training, he did say that 12 hours is probably not enough to adequately train officers to safely interact with people dangerous to themselves and to others.

We agree. The mounting number of cases of mentally ill people being hurt or killed by officers unprepared for their erratic and possibly delusional behavior shows something must change. Farrow estimated that at least 7 percent of the individuals who interact with police are mentally ill.

Dealing with mentally ill people is counterintuitive to much of the standard cop training. An officer’s most persuasive tool for most people, the threat of force, can incite someone who has broken with reality. That can put them both – and the public – in danger.

Farrow said CHP has developed a more comprehensive 40-hour training program that about 80 supervisors have completed. Ideally, all Highway Patrol officers will have to take it, he said, noting the difficulty of taking all of the department’s 12,000 officers off the road for a week at a time.

That’s a problem that Farrow and other law enforcement leaders must figure out before another – and there surely will be one – ill-equipped officer is thrown into a dangerous situation that she or he is untrained for.

The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which sets minimum training requirements for the state’s law enforcement agencies, has a responsibility to review its standards in light of this case and others, such as that of Parminder Singh Shergill, a mentally ill Army veteran shot and killed by Lodi police earlier this year.

We don’t know just how much training an officer needs to be safe when dealing with mentally ill people, but we’re sure that six hours is not enough.