Friday, February 1, 2008

Negative Externalities and Brittney Spears

That raises several questions about the role of the police, one of which is whether the police should be in the mental health business at all. The Los Angeles force has a whole unit set up just to deal with the mentally ill, called the Crisis Response Support Section; the article quotes the head of the section, Lt. Rick Wall, saying his unit responds to about 100 calls a day around the city, one-quarter of them leading to involuntary commitment:

“Most go exactly as the one last night, without the 200 paparazzi,” he said. “We get calls from family members daily who are worried about their loved ones being a danger to themselves or others.”

Another question is whether the police gave Ms. Spears a level of special treatment that would never be lavished on an ordinary Joe, in effect acting as bodyguards to keep photographers away from her and stop them from following the ambulance on public streets. The police themselves seemed to be of two minds on that question:

Police officials defended the cost of the operation, saying that aggressive paparazzi required numerous police officers to avoid a traffic accident that could have caused harm to the public or Spears.

L.A.P.D. Deputy Chief Michel Moore said it was “a shame” that scarce police resources had to be diverted from “public safety needs such as violent crime, drunken driving or responding to the ongoing stream of 911 calls.” But he said the department “had no choice but to ensure that we appropriately dealt with this incident.”

-Of Badges, Straitjackets and Britney Spears

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