Dr. Robert Long's adult son, who had a long history of mental illness and had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, was shot and killed by a local law enforcement officer. The sheriff's department had been called by Dr. Long when his son began manifesting symptomatic behavior that Dr. Long considered dangerous to his son. The fatality occurred in the encounter, and was witnessed by Dr. Long.
Rather than personally lashing out or succumbing to overwhelming grief, Dr. Long chose to use this tragic incident for the betterment of the community. After making inquiries, he learned there was no comprehensive, regularly scheduled training program regarding dealing with the mentally ill for law enforcement officers in the area. He approached the Foundation for Mental Health of the Shoals and made a significant financial contribution for this purpose. Subsequently, the Foundation, with the Riverbend Center for mental health, hosted a local public mental health seminar was conducted with 138 law enforcement offers attending.
Officers from the three counties of Colbert, Lauderdale, and Franklin were invited and every law enforcement agency in these three counties sent one or more representatives.
This type of training is becoming increasingly important for communities. Ala., as well as every state in the union, has closed down public facilities serving the severely mentally ill, resulting in almost daily encounters of law officers with severely disturbed people who frequently have stopped taking their anti-psychotic medications. One has only to read articles from across the country to hear of incidents similar to the one described with Dr. Long. The community plans to present this training program annually so that new officers will understand mental illness and be better trained to deal with it in a positive manner.