Group calls for treatment, not jail, for the mentally ill

Reports: Number of mentally ill behind bars doubled in last decade

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —A group of local pastors are calling on authorities in Sacramento County to offer medical treatment, instead of jail time, to mentally ill people who confront police officers.

Although some recent confrontations have led officers to shoot, Sacramento police managed to end a confrontation with one man last month without opening fire.

Watch report: Group calls attention to mentally ill being sent to jail

Kenny Smith, 22, allegedly approached officers, said he had a weapon, and ultimately pointed a cell phone at them, according to Sacramento police.

"That day, my son tried to take his life and use the Sacramento Police Department to assist him," said Smith's mother, Debora Slay.

Slay has joined with a group called Sacramento Area Congregations Together to argue that Smith should receive mental health treatment instead of a jail sentence. They gathered for prayer outside the Sacramento County Jail Sunday afternoon and pointed to published reports that indicate that the number of mentally ill people behind bars in California has doubled over the last decade.

Mental illness is a difficult problem not just for those suffering from it, but for police as well, said former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness.

"In spite of public perception, which is changing, by the way, law enforcement officers do not want to use deadly force," McGinness said. "It's not their first choice."

Similar confrontations in the Sacramento area that have ended differently than Smith's case.

Matthew Coates, 42, was shot and killed by officers in south Sacramento last month after he pointed a BB gun at them. Parminder Singh Shergill, an Army veteran, was shot and killed last year by police in Lodi, who said he charged at them with a knife. Families of both men said they suffered from mental illness.

Smith remains in Sacramento County Jail and has been charged with resisting arrest and violating his probation. His mother said he could face state prison time.

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