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Posted on Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 6 a.m.

You do what you have to do when responding to calls involving emotionally-disturbed people

By Rich Kinsey

One night years ago, my partner and I were dispatched to an apartment a little north of the University of Michigan Hospital. A woman had called the Ann Arbor Police Department and reported her son was despondent and threatening suicide. There was no further information given to the dispatcher about how he might accomplish this.

These calls are obviously taken seriously because the possibility for loss of human life is very real. Not much background information was available, so we were unsure what we would face. Would the man be armed with weapon? Would we have to kick the door to check on him? All of these questions race through your mind as you respond to a call of this nature.

We approached his apartment with guns drawn and placed down by our thighs, out of sight. We surrounded the door and took a few moments to listen for noise inside the apartment. Someone was still inside. It was “GO” time and we knocked on the door.


"De-ionization bracelets" can be helpful a pinch.

At this point, a lot of things could happen and we were ready, using proper officer safety techniques of the day (there were no Tasers back then). What confronted us at the door was something we hadn't expected in our tactical planning. It is something my partner and I will never forget.

The young man who answered the door had a crazed look in his eyes, wild hair, and yelled at us, “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” He was armed with a table knife in his hand. His implement of death was the kind of table knife that won’t cut through anything much more substantial than butter. It was the object on top of his head that surprised us the most.

Perched in the nest of wild hair, just above the sneer and wild eyes, was a live blue parakeet. My partner and I were simultaneously laughing and reholstering our guns when my partner told him to put the knife down. The man dropped the knife on the floor. I then asked the man to let us in so we could talk to him. He became a good host and let us in. Once inside, I sized up his problem rather quickly.

Inside the poor soul’s apartment, the ceiling and walls were covered with aluminum foil. One must remember the mission here is to get this man who wants to hurt himself to the hospital for a psychological evaluation without injury to anyone.

I told him it was obvious what the problem was and why he wanted to hurt himself. I asked him who had done his foil work because there were obvious leaks. I told him I thought he had been exposed to a bad dose of “rays.” He agreed and was so happy someone finally understood.

I told him we must get him to the hospital as soon as possible to be checked by a doctor. He agreed. He replaced Polly (or whatever the parakeet was named) in her cage.

I asked him what protection he had from the “rays” outside. He said he really didn’t have any. I explained to him that the badges on our hats actually deflected the “rays” and protected us until we could get back under the metal roof of our car.

I asked him if perhaps he had any “de-ionization bracelets” or the like. He told me he did not. Luckily, I had a set on my gun belt that I could loan him until we got to the hospital. I placed the specially designed “de-ionization bracelets” (they resembled common police handcuffs) on his wrists, threw his jacket over his shoulders for added protection, locked his front door, and we strolled out to the waiting police car.

He was actually calm and relieved when he got in the car. I realize that for therapeutic reasons, I should not have used this man’s irrational fears, but it worked and no one got hurt.

In my experience, officers in uniform have a rather difficult time altering an emotionally disturbed person’s reality. Therefore, I have unashamedly adopted “roles” as needed to get someone safely into custody and to the psychiatric help they need.

I have had several “kings/queens of the world”, “Hitler”, and “Jesus” in my patrol car during my career. In each case, I adopted the role of their royal guardsman, driver or disciple, and it helped get the job done. Sometimes you do what you have to do.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for


Snarf Oscar Boondoggle

Fri, Oct 8, 2010 : 10:54 a.m.

kinsey is chief fo the good guys.... nice work.


Fri, Oct 8, 2010 : 10:06 a.m.

You just keep on doing what you're doing, Rich. If I had to go to the hospital under that set of delusions, you would be the one I'd want to come a'knockin' at my door.


Fri, Oct 8, 2010 : 9:35 a.m.

Tru2Blu76, The topic of this story was a Police Officer's response to a 911 call. He/they intervened properly and safely transported the identified patient to the hospital. That was the topic, not the extended treatment of individuals designated "mentally ill."


Fri, Oct 8, 2010 : 8:14 a.m.

@Tru2Blu76 Your concerns are very real. Every mental illness is different and every person who has a mental illness is different - each person reacts differently. Some individuals are violent only to themselves, some become violent towards others, some just struggle silently within themselves, some completely withdraw from society, etc. It is important to remember that not everyone with a mental illness has violent tendencies. But I do agree with you, one thing never changes the difficultly the family of that person has and the struggle that they go through everyday. It is not just the person with the illness that struggles, it is their family, friends, and other loved ones as well. And as I said in earlier posts, I do know first hand how tough that can be, it is not something that goes away at 5:00 when you leave work, it is not something that ever goes away, regardless if the individual is violent or not. I also agree that people with mental illnesses do not always get the help that they truly need. In many cases they have a difficult time getting help at all. In some cases, when they do go to a treatment facility, they are released too soon, as you said. Releasing someone that is in desperate need of help can, in some cases, have a very dangerous result. It sounds like you are very passionate about the cause. We want people like you to help us change how treatment facilities handle individuals with mental illness. We need people like you who are willing to stand up for what you believe in to help make a difference. We need help promoting good resources in our community so people know where they can get quality care. We want help promoting the policies that are in place regarding suicide prevention and mental health care. And we are always looking for planning committee members for the Ann Arbor "Out of the Darkness" Suicide Prevention walk that takes place every September. If you are interested in helping us make a difference please let me know you can email me at Thank you again for sharing your information with us. I hope to speak to you about this further.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 3:40 p.m.

AFSPannarbor, You are most gracious, AFSPannarbor. I certainly will look at the web sites you've identified. You be well.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 3:08 p.m.

Thank you 1ofalpha for the kind words. I appreciate your knowledge and your support. Also, thank you for caring enough to comment on this subject today it obviously shows that you care. Too many people sit back and let things happen without sharing their opinions and experiences. I hope you get the chance to look at some of the websites that I have listed above you never know when the information might come in handy. Thank you again.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 2:59 p.m.

AFSPannarbor, Absolutely no faulting of you whatsoever, and your work evidences your very real commitment, and actions, to help those with difficulties--whether biologically based or behavioral in nature. Yes, I'm indeed, very familiar with this business of "the blues" and "just pull yourself up by the boot straps" mentality. It's nearly obscene and especially so with more severe disorders as you mention. AFSPannarbor, I'm intimately familiar with such issues--personal and with family--not just text book shrink-dom. You keep up the good work, keep the faith and carry on. I'm always around if you need an ear.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 2:44 p.m. Check out the link above - it is an article written by Dr. John Greden, Director of the University of Michigan Depression Center. In this article he affirms that depression and other mental disorders are physical illnesses, as well as discusses the stigma and what we can to do help. He does a great job at shining a light on this sensitive subject. Thank you for taking the time to learn more! "You can help. In appropriate circumstances, it is often liberating to share experiences with depression, bipolar, and related illness. When feasible, we can help people with depression, bipolar, or related illnesses re-enter the workplace. We can respond to false, incorrect statements. If we want to be a truly healthy society, we need to break down stigma and treat depression like any other health condition. It all starts with you." - Dr. John Greden


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 2:26 p.m.

@1ofalpha: I completely understand where you are coming from. Thank you for sharing your point of view. I have talked to many people with similar opinions I am by no means trying to criticize your opinion, I just want to provide the public with helpful information on mental illness and how we can help those who are struggling. I am trying to help save lives I try every day and if this information can save at least one life, then what I am doing is making a difference. But no lives will be saved if I dont at least try. Mental illnesses are not the same as a short-term feeling of sadness or emptiness - they are not just a temporary case of the blues. Depression and other types of mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, OCD, etc.) are, in most cases, brain disorders caused by abnormalities in the levels of neurochemicals in the brain. They cannot be overcome through "will power" and are not related to a person's "character" or intelligence they need to be treated like other diseases need to be treated. There is no single cause known, but they are still serious conditions that have life-threatening effects if left untreated. The World Health Organization actually ranks depression as one of the most disabling disease in the world. You may not have any personal tie to suicide but do you know that more than 33,000 take their own life every year and more than one million attempt to do so? Suicide is the third leading cause of death among those 15-24 years old. You may not be aware, but there are probably people you know that struggle silently every day because they are too scared to ask for help, or because they dont think they can be helped. Even though you do not know anyone that has taken there life, there are millions of people in this world that do. As people recognize that suicidal behavior is the result of a medical condition, not a sign of weakness or character defect, the stigma will change. Police officers are often the first responders and I appreciate the work that they do. I have family members that have been police officers and corrections officers for 30+ years I understand what thought process they go through when responding to any situation. I am not asking them to have a therapy session, I am asking them to do exactly what Mr. Kinsey described you do what you have to do. I commend him for thinking on his feet and I appreciate the fact that he helped this young man get the treatment that he needed. I am just trying to provide people with information that they may not know about suicidal individuals. Some people may not be aware that our actions and our words can have such a harmful effect. It seems like you understand where I am coming from, and I do not think that you can fault me for trying to get the information out there so we can help the people that need help.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 1:47 p.m.

AFSPannarbor, I am sorry for your loss and must imagine your current work will be helpful to others, and your continued grief. Bringing attention to people with problems, removing stigmas and being alert to signs and symptoms is obviously critical. Suicide, in and of itself, is not a medical disease, AFSPannarbor. It can be the result, though, of one or of complicated conditions. I have practiced with an extremely diverse population for more than 25 years, without any suicides, and have some clues regarding the phenomena. This is distinct, AFSPannarbor, from a Police Officer's task when confronting a life/death situation. As you must know from your work a suicidal person can readily become a homicidal one. RK had no idea ahead of time of what he would find on the other side of the door. He did what his training and good experience told him to do. Those are not times to consult a manual, STOP, or be concerned about stigmas. If you have conducted therapy with a patient holding a 38 on you, not making eye contact, then perhaps you'd know one must rely on one's fast thinking, learning and experiences. I suggest this is a situation where we need to commend an individual for his thoughtful actions and, thank goodness for a fortune outcome. From his description of other situations he has clearly a competent track record. Let's leave the essay on the vicissitudes of the stigmatization of those deemed mentally ill for a different context.

Steve Pepple

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 1:21 p.m.

A guest opinion piece in response to this column has been written by Tiffany Messer, the co-chair for the annual Ann Arbor "Out of the Darkness" Suicide Prevention walk. You can read her response at


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 12:59 p.m.

Thank you Joe - I appreciate you expressing your concern for my comment. I would like you to know that I was not criticizing Mr. Kinseys actions by any means I am happy that he was able to help the young man described in the article. Through my work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention I have come to understand that suicide IS an illness that is both recognizable and treatable. I am not saying that we need to treat everyone with a mental illness like a perfectly normal person if we treated them like nothing is wrong than they would never get the help that they need. I lost a loved one to suicide in 2006, he was only 16 years old. We saw the signs but acted like nothing was wrong and what he was going through was perfectly normal for a 16 year old unfortunately our actions, or lack there of, caused him to not receive the help that he desperately needed and he is no longer with us today that is something that we have to live with the rest of our life. The point that I am trying to express is that every situation is different, every person is different, every mental illness is different, and it is important for us all to understand people who are struggling and what they go through so we can all avoid saying or doing something that might increase undesirable emotions in that person and could potentially lead to increased thoughts of suicide. The word disturbed can have negative connotations, especially to someone who is already struggling, to someone who already feels hopeless, to someone who feels like nothing can help them. We all say things that can be hurtful without even knowing it, but if you take the time to learn about mental illness you will understand why we all have to be more conscientious about what we do and/or say. Suicide is a very real thing and there are many people who are no longer with us today because one word, or one comment, pushed them over the edge and made them feel like life was no longer worth living. To someone with a mental illness, one word or one comment can be life changing. I encourage everyone reading this to learn more about mental illnesses and suicide - maybe one day this knowledge can help you save someones life. Two great websites that you can go to are: and I would also be more than happy to discuss this further with anyone who is interested in learning more feel free to email me at


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 12:13 p.m.

Bravo, Joe Citizen. The officer had a brilliant way of relating to the individual who, at that time, was clearly in difficulty. He could have followed a very PC routine, though PC routines have a way of being patronizing. Also, the "STOP criteria" could have lead to an undesirable outcome. RK was obviously genuine, and not patronizing. Had he been his "approach" would not have worked. I'm about to Erp re:' this ongoing, Ann Arbor PC phenomena. Whoa.

Joe Citizen

Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 11:20 a.m.

@AFSpannarbor Are you SURE it is not Ok to call them emotionally disturbed? You continued to write mental illness. Don't you think the term illness is a little harsh? It could upset someone right? I propose we only call them "Perfectly Normal Person". That will be a more accurate description of them right? Oh no! It doesn't describe them at all! I think "emotionally disturbed" is very PC considering all of the alternatives. Great article RK. Isn't it funny how some people (first poster) don't read the article but feel the need to post. Then others comment on other garbage just to criticize you but tell you they are not?


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

Mental illnesses are very real medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, and their ability to relate to others. Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding mental illness which causes some people to be afraid to talk about it and afraid to get help. Referring to someone with any type of mental disorder as "emotionally-disturbed" can contribute to this stigma and can make those who are struggling feel like they are bad people. Maybe a different word could be used rather than "disturbed"? Also, even though you were trying to help him, some of your comments, such as "I asked him who had done his foil work because there were obvious leaks. I told him I thought he had been exposed to a bad dose of rays" could have been taken as though you were making fun of him or mocking him. Many of us say things without intending any harm but certain words and comments can make someone with a mental illness feel belittled, can discourage them from asking for help, and can increase their anxiety and thoughts of suicide. Just as we wouldn't mock someone for having a physical illness like cancer or heart disease, it can be hurtful to make light of any situation involving someone with a mental illness. It is important to remember that people with mental disorders can not always process things the same way that others do and a small thing such as this can cause them to feel overwhelmingly hopeless. I am happy to hear that your tactics to get this young man help worked, but it is important to remember that they may not have. Even if this situation happened an hour later, or a day later, the outcome may have been drastically different. Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental illness. It's easy. Just ask yourself if what you hear and/or see: -Stereotypes people with mental illness (that is, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)? -Trivializes or belittles people with mental illness and / or the illness itself? -Offends people with mental illness by insulting them? -Patronizes people with mental illness by making them feel as if they are not as good as other people? All of us can help the way people think about mental illness - Start with yourself. Be careful about your own choice of words. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental illness. Your positive attitude can affect everyone with whom you have contact. Also, try to influence all the people in your life constructively. Whenever you hear people say things that show they do not really understand mental illness, use the opportunity to share with them some of the information that you have. Thank you for taking the time to read my comment. I hope you understand that I am not criticising your tactics or writing - I am just doing what I can to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness so more people feel comfortable asking for the help that they need.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 8:04 a.m.

I had a pair of those de-ionization bracelets on once. Don't remember anything about rays or the such though? Oh yea we didn't go to the hospital either. hmmmmm.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 7:25 a.m.

I, personally, find that reading the article interfers with the direct transmission of the voices that tell me what to blog.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 7 a.m.

@racerx did you even read the article?


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 6:44 a.m.

Brilliant interventions. You used an older technique called Direct Analysis created by John Rosen, M.D. You entered the individual's delusional system and worked from there. You're a natural clinician! Thanks for sharing.


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 5:57 a.m.

Great story! Obviously, what ever connects you to that person, gives them a sense of safety/protection is a good thing! Well done!


Thu, Oct 7, 2010 : 5:11 a.m.

Oh, let me guess, taser them?