Special Report: Responding to those in crisis


NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) — Throughout his career in law enforcement, Fayetteville Police Sergeant Tony Murphy has been among those who have responded to a 911 call of someone in crisis.

Whether the person on the other end of the phone is suicidal, or someone who lives with a mental illness, Murphy said he and his fellow officers are ready to answer the call for help in an instant.

“As soon as the call comes in, especially if it’s someone armed or something like that, the officers are going to start thinking tactically,” Murphy said, “as they’re pulling up to the scene they’re visualizing what could occur.”

With no two situations alike, police rely heavily on their training to guide them in their response.

According to Bentonville Police Sergeant Gene Page, officer education begins in the classrooms with real-life scenarios. Then, cadets head out to the streets with field training officers or their sergeants. “That’s where they get a lot more information from experienced people that have dealt with those situations,” he said.

There’s also a major focus on mental illness. Soon-to-be officers learn what it is, what to look out for, and where to take people in need of help.

“Across the U.S. when the state and the federal government began shutting down facilities that had full-time facilities for people struggling with mental health, those people have been pushed back on the street so it’s become a law enforcement issue,” Page said.

Murphy recalled when this training came into play during his time in law enforcement.

On March 15, 2016, he responded to a call of a suicidal Raymond Plumlee, who suffers from schizophrenia, in the woods with a rifle. Plumlee shot a Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy.

Raymond Plumlee

Using their training, Murphy, and others first responders were able to take Plumlee into custody. He was charged with capital murder, but was later acquitted when he was found unfit to proceed.

Murphy was also one of the officers who responded to another call of someone threatening suicide. This incident was on June 24, 2016.

Randy Blecher set his Farmington home on fire, and when officers arrived on scene, he was armed with two guns. He pointed one at himself before he turned it on authorities, who then shot and killed him.

“We told him numerous times to please drop the gun, we don’t want to hurt you. Tried to use less lethal and it ended badly for everyone,” Murphy said.

It’s deadly situations like this the Arkansas Crisis Center believes could be avoided if the proper people are in place to deal with a person in crisis.

Emily Gilbertson with the Arkansas Crisis Center said when responding to someone who needs help, it’s best to use the least invasive intervention possible. “Working with mental health providers, emergency department, and other resources to get the person the help that they need rather than having law enforcement intervene.”

However, Page said there’s no one else who can be sent in.

“There’s probably better-trained people but there’s not enough of those. Either so, we’re doing the best we can to make sure first responders have the training and they’re prepared so they can have successful outcomes,” he explained.

Ultimately, both Murphy and Page agreed they want to guide people who need help to the assistance they need.

“We don’t want to take someone to jail that needs help, or some medication. We don’t feel like they belong in jail, so we want our officers to get trained in that, that way we can get the people the help they need in the right way,” Murphy said.

Page adds, “we can get help for you. If you did look out your window and saw there were uniform officers there, they’re just making sure that no one else is in danger.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, click here for local resources available to you.

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