The Jan. 30 editorial, “Our View: Maine Can Stop Police-Involved Shootings before They Happen,” suggests, “The best way to avoid an officer-involved shooting is to avoid having the police involved at all.”

If it could only be that simple.

Law enforcement officers in the State of Maine are the default social services agency at 2 in the morning, when those suffering from acute mental illness and substance use disorders need services, but those who normally provide services are home sleeping. After normal business hours, the only services available are the police, emergency medical services, hospitals and jails. In most cases, meeting the needs of those with substance use disorders, unless they overdose, or the mentally ill are not the best use of EMS services or the emergency rooms, so law enforcement and the jails become the default resolution.

However, when you look at the Maine attorney general’s report, the cases studied involved the police being assigned to investigate a domestic violence issue, a threatened family member, suicidal threats, a mental illness breakdown or individuals who had made threats of homicidal ideation. These are all calls that the police would normally respond to. If not the police, who else? Unfortunately, in the cases studied, the incident ended in tragedy as a result of an officer-involved shooting.

I wish that no law enforcement officer would ever have to endure another deadly force incident in the future, but we know that is impossible. I have never met a law enforcement officer who joined the profession with a desire to use deadly force. In fact, I know a lot of police officers who have had to resort to deadly force and it has not been the pinnacle of their career. In some cases, the officer has experienced their own stress-related issues and have left the profession.

The attorney general’s report suggest continued training in the area of mental health, but training and expertise are not the same. Until state government finds new ways to address the substance use or mental illness issues, the police will be responding to these calls.

In the middle of the night, the police are the only ones equipped and available to respond as part of our mission to protect and serve the citizens of Maine.

Kevin Joyce is the Cumberland County sheriff.

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