A Call for Help

Posted October 19, 2014 2:48 p.m. EDT
Updated February 28, 2019 11:33 a.m. EST

On Jan. 5, 2014, the parents of 18-year-old Keith Vidal of Boiling Spring Lakes called 911 for help because their son was having a schizophrenic episode. Law enforcement officers responded, and one of the officers shot and killed Vidal.

The incident is a tragic example of what can happen when police and deputies encounter people with mental illness. That’s something that’s happening more frequently in North Carolina, largely as a side effect of efforts to reform the state’s mental health care system.

The reform, which began in the early 2000s, was designed to move the mentally ill out of large institutions like Raleigh’s Dorthea Dix Hospital and into privately run, community-based facilities. The development of those private beds fell far short of expectations, leaving many mentally ill people without care in a crisis.

As a result, a call for help for a mentally ill person often winds up being answered by law enforcement officers, most of whom are not trained to deal with mentally ill people in crisis. That can create dangerous situations for the mentally ill and the responding officers.

“A Call for Help” examines the Keith Vidal story and the increasing frequency of interactions between law enforcement officers and the mentally ill. It looks at new training designed to help officers interact with mentally ill or mentally distressed people to help calm those interactions and avoid violence or arrest.

Hosted by WRAL News anchor Lynda Loveland, “A Call for Help” originally aired Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, on WRAL-TV.