Ever since the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., law enforcement and other officials have been calling for changes in the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows involuntary commitment for 72 hours of people who are an imminent danger to themselves or others. If the Baker Act had been easier to deploy, they think, Nikolas Cruz, the accused shooter, would have been taken and treated before his horrible act.
However this law may be reformed, it will never be able to get people with serious mental illness the treatment they need.
I know something about the Baker Act. About halfway through my son Matthew’s decade-long struggle with serious mental illness, my wife and I invoked the Baker Act against him.
This kind, brilliant, thoughtful young man, who experienced the sudden onset of mental illness at age 24, was living in a small condominium we owned near Sarasota, Fla. One day the manager called us with alarming allegations about his behavior and insisted that Matthew was in immediate danger.
In a panic, we flew to Sarasota, went to the courthouse and filled out the forms to invoke the Baker Act. It was surprisingly easy.
When we got to the condo, Matthew was already gone.
We later learned what had happened next. He had just emerged from the shower when police officers cuffed him — without letting him dress or pick up his cellphone, or even explaining what was happening. He was transported to a county mental health facility.
We followed, desperate to see our son. But the staff members wouldn’t let us in. In fact, they said privacy rules meant that they could not even confirm that he was there.
Worst of all, we found out we had been duped. The condo manager who had called us had concocted the story as a pretext to get our son off the property. Because Matthew had long hair and a beard, smoked and tended to wander on the beach at 3 a.m., the manager thought he might scare away those renting other units — and he just wanted Matthew out.
The Baker Act allows 72 hours of involuntary observation to see whether someone is in fact an imminent danger to himself or others. Matthew was not, and after three awful days, he was put in a taxi and sent home. We were not informed when he was released.
– New York Times