It is the common denominator in two separate incidents that left five people stabbed and two fatally shot by law enforcement officers: The perpetrator in both cases had been diagnosed with mental illness.
The first incident occurred on May 1 when two Dane County sheriff’s deputies were allegedly stabbed by 50-year-old Dean Caccomo. Caccomo is also accused of beating two members of his family. A third deputy on the scene shot and killed Caccomo.
“I can tell you that over many years he had been treated for ongoing mental illness,” Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said.
The next day, Madison police responded to a report of multiple people stabbed at an apartment in the 2700 block of East Washington Avenue. At that incident, Londrell Johnson allegedly stabbed three of his neighbors, two of them fatally. Johnson was then shot and killed by Madison police.
Family members of Johnson said he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The two incidents have focused attention on how the community and law enforcement deals with people with mental illness.
“Unfortunately when that happens people see mental illness at its worst,” said Bonnie Loughran, executive director of NAMI Dane County.
Loughran said there aren’t enough resources to provide adequate service for people with mental illness. She also believes the stigma associated with mental illness prevents some people from getting treatment.
“The reality is people with mental illness with effective treatment and service, they recover, “Loughran said.
NAMI has also been working with law enforcement agencies in Dane County to change the way they engage individuals with mental illness. With limited resources to treat them, too often it is law enforcement that is called upon to help.
“What with spending cuts, in terms of resources available to people with mental illness, the criminal justice system has unfortunately sort of become a de facto mental health provider. So I think absolutely we’ve seen an increase in officer response to people in the community with mental illness,” said Capt. Kristen Roman, with the Madison Police Department.
Roman works closely with mental health care organizations in the community to develop strategies for police officers to deal with the mentally ill. Roman is also a board member of NAMI Dane County.
MPD trains all of its officers who go through its academy in identifying individuals who may have a mental illness and provide them with strategies to deescalate situations when dealing with them.
“We do spend a fair amount of, a great deal of time actually on role playing scenarios, de-escalating and we have mental health care providers and professionals come to our academy and talk to officers about mental illness so that they are better able to recognize symptoms out in the field,” Roman said.
Roman said even with the training currently offered to Madison police officers, they are looking to improve and develop best practices.
“Every time we have an incident such as the ones we’ve seen lately we pause again to take another look and are always evaluating the training that we provide, the information that we are able to obtain, and share with officers to better prepare them to provide the best service possible,” Roman said.
NAMI Dane County plans to offer Crisis Intervention Training for law enforcement officers in the county in September.