Mental Health Civil Commitment Laws Must Adapt for Public Safety

Mental Health Civil Commitment Laws Must Adapt for Public Safety

By Steve Pomper

As a cop in Washington State, I had the authority place people with mental health issues into an involuntary commitment hold for a psychological evaluation. But only if the person was a danger to self or others. This standard was intended to correctly balance a person’s liberty with public safety.

However, as I quickly learned, the people whom police commit are often back on the streets quickly. Rather than the beginning of a new chapter, involuntary commitments are merely a punctuation mark—a comma separating one “Invol” from the next. 

The law must protect all individuals’ rights equally. This protection is crucial, especially for mentally vulnerable populations. This protection is also important because of the serious history of past abuses by mental health professionals and institutions. 

Notably, Geraldo Rivera exposed the horrific “conditions disabled children and adults…” were suffering in a New York City “state school” back in the ‘70s. As reported by WABC, “It’s been 50 years since the WABC-TV documentary that blew the cover off of the horrible living conditions of disabled children and adults at a facility on Staten Island called Willowbrook.”

The explosive exposé revealed the horrific squalor and abuse. But did well-intended courts go too far to “fix” the problem? Following the 1975 O’Connor v. Donaldson case, the U.S. Supreme Court held, “A State cannot constitutionally confine… a non-dangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends….”

But aren’t just “surviving safely,” and “help” from friends setting the bar low, if society wants the mentally ill to thrive?

Whatever you feel about the various changes in mental health civil commitment laws passed or overturned during the past half century, they obviously need tweaking. If not, mentally ill criminals will continue to victimize all people, including vulnerable mentally ill non-criminals.

And while we’re at it, what about drug addicts who refuse treatment but continue to exploit lax law enforcement and manipulate government enablers? After all, addicts induce in themselves many of the same antisocial, self-destructive behaviors of some mentally ill folks. In fact, many addicts suffer from mental illness because of their addictions.  

The ACLU is no longer committed to equal or civil rights, having become radical leftists.

NPA’s charming and knowledgeable spokesperson Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith (Ret.) is a frequent guest on various shows. Recently, Newsmax brought her on to discuss the Daniel Penny farce. The ex-Marine is being persecut… I mean, prosecuted for exercising his self-defense right to life to protect himself and others from a dangerous, mentally ill suspect. She’s also discussed the predictable mental health issues associated with mass shooters.

Sgt. Brantner Smith points out ‘death by homicide’ means the person didn’t die of natural causes. Media reports on Penny without proper context to taint the public perception that he committed a crime rather than used self-defense.  

She said, “By the time you get done listening to some of the media analysts and some of the activists…, Daniel Penny is in a KKK hood, and Jordan Neeley is just trying to put on a little Michael Jackson show, and neither of those is true.”

A NPA email to police supporters, encouraging people to Stand with the Blue stated, “While most of the media predictably call for gun bans as the remedy…, Brantner Smith approached the topic from an angle that most media won’t touch.”

She’s talking about crime prevention. This is something the political left always says they want, right, to get to the “root problem.” The sergeant suggested, “We’re going to have to go back to civil commitments for mental illness. We’re going to have to get serious about dealing with mental illness in this country. We’ve got to stop politicizing these situations and stop talking about the guns and making AR-15 the enemy.”

But sadly, for some politicians, solutions won’t get them elected. But the continuing “crises” will. The problems must continue or get worse to be exploitable. But if they listen to Sgt. Brantner Smith, they run the risk of actually solving the problem.


Courts should be able to reevaluate these chronically mentally ill 911 call factories. When officers respond, they can only involuntarily commit a person if he or she is a danger to himself or others—at that time. A person can exhibit some troubling mental health behavior without being “officially” a danger to self or others.

In some jurisdictions, radical leftist officials are trying to take any “psych commitment” authority away from cops. This is the same thinking that has officials wanting to send social workers, not police officers, to mental health-related calls. In a recent (pending) NPA article, I wrote about “the poor case worker who was murdered in Seattle on the same day the City Council defunded the cops” in 2020.


As mentioned above, an officer cannot use previous incidents to compel mental health assistance. But a court can. As with civil commitment laws dealing with repeat sex offenders, they can be used “prudently” with the mentally ill to promote public safety.  

Balancing individual liberty and coerced treatment can be difficult with the current interpretation of the legal restraints. Danger to self and others need to be broadened to include harm over the long term.

How is a human being, living on the streets, mind twisted by Fentanyl and/or mental illness, collapsed against a wall, vacant eyes, with noxious excrement oozing out of his ill-fitting pants, not a danger to himself simply because a “friend” occasionally tosses him half a sandwich?