Helping mentally ill to fight crime

After a tense police standoff with a Center City gunman ended in gunfire on Friday, city officials say more funding is needed to treat the city’s mentally ill population.

Amir Bey, 22, of South Philadelphia, was shot and critically wounded by police Friday after failing to respond to their demands that he put down his gun on North Broad Street across from City Hall.

Investigators said Bey had been pacing for 30 to 40 minutes, shouting expletives and even firing once toward officers.

It is unclear whether Bey had been diagnosed with a mental illness, police said, but clearly he had “a diminished mental condition.”

Fortunately for authorities, no one else was injured. The Bey shooting comes on the heels of an unprovoked attack on a SEPTA bus by a woman who may have a history of mental illness.

Deputy mayor for Public Safety and Mayor Michael Nutter’s chief of staff Everett Gillison said roughly 25 percent of the city’s prison population has been diagnosed with a mental illness and an estimated 15 percent are seriously mentally ill.

While the city’s mental health court has helped divert some offenders away from jail, Gillison said further cuts in state funding for social services puts more pressure on the judicial system.

“Stuff that happened like (Friday), thank God, doesn’t happen often. … We should be spending more money in areas of prevention instead of this knee-jerk reaction of just cut, cut, cut,” he said. “We really never understand the needed investment to help people through dealing with these kinds of acute issues, but it is always in society’s best interest to deal with it on the front end than to wring our hands when something bad has happened.”

City health officials had projected a 20 percent cut in state aid, but it is unclear how much they will receive under the budget state lawmakers adopted less than two weeks ago.

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