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"What is the need for handcuffs?" Should mental health patients be cuffed on the way to medical evaluation

Posted at 7:50 AM, Mar 27, 2024

Lee Interfaith for Empowerment, also called LIFE, is a coalition of different religious groups.

Lorna Washington is the co-chair and the mental health coordinator. She says the group hosts house meetings where members of the congregation speak up about issues in the community.

One issue that keeps coming up is mental health.

"When individuals are being transported to the hospital, they're transported in the back of a police car. The majority of the time they are handcuffed," she said.

LIFE is asking the area's sheriff's and police departments not to cuff non-violent people in their custody when taking them to the hospital for mental health treatment. That transportation is something officers do under the Baker Act.

Dr. Dave Thomas is a former officer and current FGCU professor of forensic studies. He shares a different perspective and believes officers cuff to reduce the potential for violence.

"When we talk about people who are suffering from mental health issues, understand that is human behavior that is unpredictable, it's just like any suspect," he said.

Mary Stockton is another member of LIFE and the pastor at New Image Tabernacle Church.

"We've looked at various policies in the surrounding areas, in Naples, in Port Charlotte and they seem to be working a lot better what we're having in Lee County," Stockton said.

We asked the Lee County Sheriff's Office about it's policy and a department spokesperson gave us this statement. "The Lee County Sheriff's Office strives to maintain the dignity of the persons in our care while maintaining the safety of themselves, and of our deputies."

LIFE members say the current law enforcement policies say, individuals can be transported without cuffs if they're not violent,' but congregation members say it's not happening that way.

"What we're finding out through our research, and conversations with people in the community, everyone's being handcuffed at this time," Washington said.