Police department changes its policy on apprehension orders

Police department changes its policy on apprehension orders by M. Jill Karolevitz The Vermillion Police Department�s policy regarding how officers handle petitions or orders of apprehension from a county mental health board has changed.

�We have had two incidents this year where we�ve experienced repercussions upon the enforcement of these orders,� said Vermillion Police Chief Bruce Plate.

On May 11, Plate issued a memo to all Vermillion Police officers:

�Officers of the Vermillion Police Department will not enforce any petition or order of apprehension from a county mental health board (SDCL 27 A-10-2) without the specific authorization of the Chief of Police.�

Three state laws are among those that govern how mental health orders are carried out.

27A-10-1 deals with the petition asserting need for immediate intervention of mentally ill persons: �When any person is alleged to be severely mentally ill and in such condition that immediate intervention is necessary for the protection from physical harm of himself or others, any person, eighteen years of age or older, may petition the chairman of the county board of mental illness where such allegedly severely mentally ill person is found, stating the factual basis for concluding that such person is severely mentally ill and in immediate need of intervention. The petition shall be upon a form and be verified by affidavit?�

SDCL 27 A-10-2 states?�After examination of a petition filed under 27A-10-1, the chair of the county board of mental illness may order the apprehension and transportation of any person who the chair has probable cause to believe meets the criteria in 27A-10-1 to an appropriate regional facility?�

SDCL 27 A-10-3 refers to apprehension by peace officers of a person believed to require emergency intervention: �A peace officer may apprehend any person that he has probable cause to believe requires emergency intervention under the criteria in 27A-10-1. The peace officer shall transport the person to an appropriate regional facility?�

The Vermillion Police Department�s policy change, in regard to the latter law, does not apply.

�This order in no way contradicts a police officer�s ability to apprehend any person that he has probable cause to believe requires emergency intervention,� according to the Vermillion Police Department memo.

�My number-one priority is officer safety,� Plate said. �When it comes to these orders from a county mental health board (SDCL 27-A-10-2), I will look at them critically before we jump in and grab someone. It�s not like we�re absolutely not going to enforce these orders. But we will study each case very carefully before taking action.�

Plate is also concerned about the city of Vermillion�s position if something goes wrong.

�What position does this put the city in if we�re bound by one of these orders and it goes south on us?� he asked. �If we enter an emergency situation and the suspect is shot, where does the liability lie? Could there be a lawsuit by the suspect�s family?�

In another vein, Plate noted the sensitivity of mental health issues.

�Mental health issues are sealed from public record,� he said. �We are unable to let the public know why we were there if the case goes to court and the judge rules that certain evidence is inadmissable. If a confrontation of any type took place, it�s possible that the mental health issue would not be brought out during legal proceedings. If the confrontation resulted in injury or death of police officers or the suspect, my hands would be tied when it comes to testifying to a jury as to why we were there in the first place.�

Over the years, the Vermillion Police Department has made policy changes, so this is nothing new, Plate said. One such change relates to civil matters.

�We will not accompany a woman who is leaving a spouse or boyfriend and wants us to be there when she retrieves her property from the home,� Plate said. �About 16 to 18 years ago, a Huron policeman was killed in that type of an incident. That really ate at me because a police officer is not bound to accompany someone in that situation. As it stands, we will not get involved in a civil disagreement unless there is a court order specifically requesting our presence.�

The question of liability when something goes awry is also applicable here, Plate said.

�If an officer says he will accompany a woman to her former home for the retrieval of property or other reasons and the woman gets hurt or shot in a resulting altercation with the spouse or boyfriend, the officer�s agreement to protect her is broken and a lawsuit could follow,� Plate said.

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