Sunday 17 July 2016

Community compassion

You might wonder where my recent interest in the treatment of the demented sprang from and I'm not about to tell you. But I will share with you that, in Ireland, the police have no specific training in dealing with demented people. That seems a bit of a hole because there are a lot of people who qualify for being on the Alzheimer Society's books and that number is not diminishing. In one small Irish town, the local cops get an "Alzheimer Call" about once a week but that is almost always a missing person call. That can be dealt with in a relatively generic way: missing child, missing dog, missing granny - there's a protocol.  Once they've hunted down the quarry, they deliver it home and write a report. They don't have to speak to the dog or the demented old person. There might be questions asked about why the child legged it, but not the other cases. But what if the demented person isn't missing but in the police station? Is there an efficient, compassionate, effective way of dealing with her? We all appreciate that not all dementias are Alzheimer's; there's syphilis-induced General Paresis of the Insane GPI and schizophrenia for starters. Also there are degrees of being bonkers but the diversity and difficulty of diagnosis isn't sufficient excuse To Do Nothing.

I was listening on the wireless to an interview with someone who worked for the Asperger's Society. She was shilling for her people and her charity, of course, but she was also informing me and Joe Public about what it's like to be on that spectrum. They (we?) don't like to be touched / hugged, for example. I thought it was because I was British. If everyone appreciated that touching and personal space might be an issue here, then we'd have more appropriate approach distances and make someone else a bit more comfortable. Making people comfortable is the key to good manners.

A young chap I know found himself in trouble with the police recently and was shocked at how little consideration he got. The beat cops didn't want to hear his story, they just wanted him to do what they told him and do it now.  Hmmm, that was instructive.  In Ireland, the police are not armed, so there was no chance of my young pal getting shot - he passes for white for starters - but his treatment / objectification was on the same spectrum as that experienced by the black chaps who are getting offed by law-enforcement  at the rate of one a month in the USA.  Kottke has a piece on the mentality of would-be law enforcement officers which is consonant with my superficial psychological analysis from two years ago.

If young men have an excess of compassion then they sign up for Médecins Sans Frontières MSF or the Red Cross, not the police.  But I suggest to you that we all have some level of compassion and that, with appropriate training / intervention this might be nurtured. It just takes a passing thought of "there but for a very expensive education go I" to give us pause before demonising The Other. If the Minister of Justice makes a Compassion Course a merit-winner in the dreaded CPD [continuous professional development] requirements for police officers then there may be slots for the rest of us to fill if a particular course is not fully subbed up by the Gardai.

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