Of Badges, Straitjackets and Britney Spears
By Patrick J. Lyons
Britney Spears arriving at the Los Angeles County Superior courthouse on Jan. 14 for a hearing regarding visitation rights for her two sons. (Gabriel Buoys/AFP/Getty Images)The Lede was more than prepared to ignore Britney Spears’s hospitalization this week, out of boredom with yet another distasteful datapoint in her protracted melodrama of a life as much as any loftier notion that, were all media coverage of her to cease immediately and forever, she and society would both be better off.
But don’t roll your eyes just yet. There are substantial issues to talk about in this episode, even though it involves a celebrity so many of us are just sick to blazes of hearing about. An article in The Los Angeles Times this morning explores them.
To start with, Ms. Spears did not sign herself in to the hospital, and the incident apparently can’t be chalked up to mere attention-seeking on her part: Family and friends seem to have been trying to force her to get help, and it was her psychiatrist who called the cops. So one issue that arises is involuntary commitment, a concept that sends shudders of dread or anger through many people. The L.A. Times article nutshells it this way:
Some believe that virtually any attempt to commit someone involuntarily is a step backward, a reminder of dark days of asylums, forced lobotomies and, more recently, the use of forced restraints and long periods of seclusion.
Others call that wrongheaded and say that with enough protections in place, some people who suffer from mental illness but do not agree that they are sick can be helped by compelled treatment. Failing to compel treatment is akin to denying chemotherapy to a cancer patient, people on that side of the debate say.
An image from TMZ.com’s video clip of the police motorcade escorting Britney Spears to the hospital in an ambulance early Thursday.The article also details the rather elaborate lengths the L.A.P.D. went to in getting her from her home to the hospital, not to mention the expense ($25,000):
Early Thursday morning, the plan was executed with about two dozen police officers, a helicopter and a special team that took Spears out through a gate in an ambulance with covered windows to prevent photographers from looking inside. Police blocked roads so she couldn’t be followed.
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.”
There is another link in the text of the article to the LA Times story.