A state task force assembled to examine police-involved shootings issued a report Monday recommending wider access to mental health care for all Mainers, and more training in crisis intervention for police and dispatchers.

Task force members also called for the courts to increase the use of mandated mental health treatment plans.

The ad hoc committee was convened in December 2017 by then-Attorney General Janet Mills and examined 10 cases between 2015 and 2016 in which police used deadly force, half the total number of incidents for those years.

Common among the cases was substance abuse and mental health problems for which people were not receiving treatment or care.

Mills had charged the group with taking a deeper look at deadly force cases to “form more accurate conclusions about why the incidents are occurring and whether we can prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries in the future.”

The group found that based on anecdotal evidence, police in Maine are facing an escalating number of calls involving people who are in crisis, involving complex issues of mental health problems, substance abuse and domestic violence.

In the 10 incidents they evaluated, the typical individual confronting police was an armed man with a criminal history who was suffering from symptoms of depression, including some who were suicidal. Six of the incidents involved domestic violence-related situations.

In every case, a weapon was present, and in all but three cases, that weapon was a gun of some kind. In nine cases, the person involved had a criminal history, and in eight of the cases, the person involved was experiencing mental health problems.

In seven cases, drugs or alcohol was found to be in the person’s system. On average, the blood-alcohol level of the person involved was 0.241 percent, or three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Also common among seven cases was a recent loss of some kind. In four cases, it was the end of a romantic relationship, and in other instances it was the loss of custody of a minor child, the prospect of returning to jail, or the loss of property or a family home, according to the report.

The No. 1 recommendation to help prevent deaths in the future centered on mental health treatment availability.

“All too often, persons exhibiting signs of mental health crisis are in emergency rooms for extended periods, due in large part to the lack of availability of inpatient mental health services,” the group wrote.

The task force also placed more onus on the courts to exercise their power to compel people to seek mental health or substance abuse treatment, known as a progressive treatment program. If someone fails to comply, the court can order that he or she be placed in a psychiatric facility.

Whenever possible, officers and dispatchers should attend crisis intervention training, which typically spans 40 hours and helps first responders remain calm and de-escalate potentially violent situations.

The group did not publish which cases they examined, but said it looked at those that were both closed and not subject to litigation.

The report also did not include any evaluation of the conduct of the officers involved in the deadly force encounters outside of the legally required and separate analysis of whether the use of deadly force was justified.

Since at least 1990, the Attorney General’s Office has never found the use of deadly force by police to be unjustified.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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