Letters To The Editor

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 23, 2007

Treat mentally ill before crisis strikes

In the tragic case of Ryan Lee Meyers, public outrage is focused on the police ("A stunning omission," editorial, March 21).

But cries for reform rarely turn to Maryland's real problem - an archaic state law that keeps some mentally ill people from getting help until they, like Mr. Meyers, become a danger to themselves or others.

Maryland actually requires someone with a severe mental illness to be dangerous before he or she can be involuntarily committed.

That means family members have no choice but to sit back and watch someone they love get sicker and sicker until they feel their lives are threatened.

Given that ridiculous standard, nobody should be surprised when such situations eventually become law enforcement problems.

You can argue about whether officers effectively use tools such as stun guns, crisis teams or mental health training. But the fact remains that officers wouldn't need these tools if the mental health system could help someone before he or she sinks into crisis.

People with severe untreated mental illnesses deserve intervention - by mental health professionals - when their doctors and families see that they are severely deteriorating, and long before they pick up a bat and swing it at their parents.

So who is to blame for the Ryan Meyers tragedy?

Let's start with the laws that put officers in these untenable situations.

Mary Zdanowicz

Arlington, Va.

The writer is executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit group that works for timely treatment for the mentally ill.

Shutting old prison will add to safety

I applaud and give accolades to Gov. Martin O'Malley for the swift and complete closure of the House of Correction in Jessup ("Finally, Md. closes prison," March 21).

As a longtime challenger of the antiquated facility, I am relieved that our governor has taken this major step to clean up our troubled prison system.

Anne Arundel County has long been host to some of the state's most violent criminals at the House of Correction.

For years, my office and the taxpayers of this county have suffered the costs associated with prosecuting those inmates who commit additional crimes while imprisoned - a situation that was routine at Jessup.

The facility was ripe for assaults and murders. I should know, as my office has had to prosecute several such crimes year after year.

With last year's murder of Corrections Officer David Mc- Guinn and the more recent assault on another officer ("Inmate stabs guard," March 3), an inside view of the bedlam at the Jessup prison came to the forefront.

Public Safety Secretary Gary D. Maynard saw this situation and acted swiftly. His wisdom and fervor are welcome here in Maryland.

This crucial move by Mr. Maynard and Mr. O'Malley will make our correctional guards safer and our prison system tighter and allow for a much closer look at our prison system.

Frank R. Weathersbee

Annapolis

The writer is state's attorney for Anne Arundel County.

Mayor must offer better solutions

Mayor Sheila Dixon continues to offer no solutions to the city's problems.

As a citizen of Northeast Baltimore, I can increasingly hear gunshots in my neighborhood and watch drug dealers openly solicit along Harford Road.

Yet the only type of police strategy Ms. Dixon has mentioned is "community policing" or officers "walking the beat" ("Dixon hears call for foot patrols," March 20).

This does not address organized drug-dealing or people shooting from cars speeding down neighborhood streets.

I think Ms. Dixon is out of touch. She needs to address real issues with real plans.

For instance, Ms. Dixon states that trash is a high priority. Then she says she plans to hire a few inspectors and come up with a slogan ("Getting city to pick it up," March 13).

The citizens of Baltimore deserve more.

Kimberly D. Lane

Baltimore

Cops on the beat keep streets safer

Foot patrols are the first positive suggestion concerning policing I've heard in the decades since we made the wrongheaded decision to remove foot patrols from our streets in favor of officers speeding about town in cars and causing accidents ("Dixon hears call for foot patrols," March 20).

Having grown up on the mean streets of Waverly during the segregation years of 1957 to 1962, I saw firsthand how the system of police officers on the beat worked.

They knew all the people on their beat, especially the young troublemakers. Indeed, when something happened, they were often at the young people's homes talking with their parents before the miscreants arrived there.

The decision to put the police in cars was made to give them flexibility, numbers and speed in terms of ready response.

As a former military police machine-gunner who served under enemy fire in Vietnam, I am not unmindful of these virtues. Still, I have come to the conclusion that our streets were safer with foot patrols than they have been without them.

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