Psychiatrists vs Psychologists Anyone?

     I couldn’t get home last week from Los Angeles because of the snow storm so I flew into Las Vegas to do interviews for my new nonfiction book. I enjoyed being in the only city in America, I think, that didn’t have snow on its streets or freezing weather. It also was interesting to drive along the famous Strip and see how much it has changed from when I did my research in 1997 for my book, Super Casino.

 While the Luxor is still there with its shiny black exterior and brilliant pyramid tip, it looked puny compared to the new billion dollar mega-resorts that have been constructed recently.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the contrast that you see in Las Vegas, even when you’re trying to find things to do in Las Vegas with kids.

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My trip to Skid Row

I toured Skid Row in Los Angeles last week and visited an innovative medical clinic that serves the homelessness population there. I also saw a newly built housing project for chronically homeless persons with mental illnesses, and then I ended the day at the Twin Towers – Los Angeles County’s main jail. Many of you know the jail is the largest public mental health facility in our country.

Six years ago, I spent two days on the jail’s seventh floor where the most psychotic prisoners are kept. It is where I planned to do research for my book, CRAZY. But lawyers in the sheriff’s office pulled my invitation citing privacy laws. I tried Cook County in Chicago next, then Rikers Island in New York City, then Baltimore and finally Washington D.C. but none of those facilities would let me in. Finally, my friend, Judge Steven Leifman, got me into the Miami Dade County Jail.

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What should we do when there is a shooting?

I had planned to write today about my trip out of the snow-bound Washington D.C. area to Los Angeles where I toured Skid Row and the Twin Towers, which is the nickname for the city jail. As many of you know, the jail is the largest public mental institution in the U.S.

However, I decided to wait until Monday to post that account because of the police shooting here in Fairfax, Va.  that put Ian Smith, a person with mental illness, into the hospital in critical condition.

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A sad day for all of us in Fairfax

 Tom Jackman has written a follow-up story about the shooting of Ian Smith in Herndon. You can read here.

Even though I normally don’t write on Thursdays and am out of town, I wanted to post it.

It is important for our community to get a full explanation about what happened the night Ian was shot. We need to know so that we can, hopefully, prevent future shootings. Obviously, my heart goes out to the entire Smith family. This is horrible. It is every family’s nightmare – calling for help and ending up having a loved one shot. The family is hurting and demanding answers. I am praying that Ian recovers. Please join me.

According to Jackman’s story, Major Tom Ryan was at the scene. While I have no inside knowledge about what happened that night, I can tell you that there is no one on the Fairfax County Police Department who has worked harder for persons with mental illness than Major Ryan. He is personally responsible for getting CIT training here. He has been its biggest booster. He cares about persons with mental illness.

And that makes this shooting incident especially tragic.

My heart goes out to the Smith family. My heart also goes out to Tom Ryan. This is a sad day for our entire Northern Virginia mental health community.

Let’s hope Ian recovers.

Enough is Enough!

The last several days have been odd. I had a discouraging telephone call with my long- time editor during which he told me that the only nonfiction books that have been selling lately are partisan political attacks on the opposition or memoirs. He rejected a fabulous true crime idea that I had proposed and said “no”  when I mentioned a possible book about a spy. He already had rejected a book that I wanted to write about homelessness and one that I had proposed about successful programs that are helping persons with mental illnesses.

As you can imagine, since all of my books have been about true crime, spies, or mental illness, it was a depressing conversation that left me wondering if I should have taken my mother’s advice and stuck around at the Washington Post .

And then —

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Where’s the community outrage?

I wrote a piece for the Washington Post on Sunday that turned out  much differently from what I had intended to write. A man with mental illness was fatally shot by a Fairfax County police officer. The police were looking for him because he was suspected of taking flowers from a planter outside an area shop.
I decided to use this horrific incident to explain how important it is for the police to get Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches officers how to handle persons with mental disorders with a minimum of force.
But as I began investigating the shooting, I had another thought  — and I also got upset.