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JackHEvans416 karma

Starting with your last two questions: We don't think it's necessarily our place to propose policy changes, but there was some consensus among people we interviewed with regard to the flaws we uncovered — perhaps most notably, all of the mental health experts we spoke to wanted to have a larger role (e.g., not be shut out by school district policy) in how the Baker Act is used in schools, and the law enforcement professionals we spoke with said they'd be in favor of mental health experts having bigger roles (and some, such as Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, even said they think police are particularly unqualified to be the ones dealing with this issue).
Something that kind of answers all of your questions is that change can happen when people speak out. Our colleague Neil Bedi reported earlier this year on how a hospital near Tampa was holding patients longer than allowed by law; the state investigated and found that the CEO — who has since left that job — was unqualified for the job. A state investigation found other major problems there, too, and now has ordered the company that runs the hospital to fix it. Of course, this is a traumatic subject for many people; we'd never expect everyone to be open to speaking publicly about their experiences, and we deeply appreciate the bravery and candor of the folks who talked to us for these stories.

JackHEvans87 karma

It's tricky to answer that question definitively, because — even though we've learned an awful lot about these issues — we're not mental health experts, plus, because of the frankly skimpy record-keeping often done in these cases, it's often impossible to know exactly what happened in full leading to the use of the Baker Act. What I can say is that we reviewed more than 350 police reports that described the use of the Baker Act, and some of them struck us as being far from meeting the criteria that the statute calls for to take someone into custody. There's a good example in the story that Megan and I wrote, of a report where a deputy describes placing a child under the Baker Act "due to (his) autism" and "in lieu of placing him under arrest" — even though autism is not considered a mental illness (and thus doesn't meet Baker Act criteria), and even though the Baker Act is not meant to be used as a disciplinary or punitive action. Then there are cases like those of many of the families we interviewed, where doctors and other mental health experts who have examined the children have said, after the Baker Act was used on them, that the kids didn't have a mental illness. And across those hundreds of police reports, we certainly came across dozens of other questionable uses of the Baker Act.

JackHEvans77 karma

Hey, this is a really interesting question. First, big flashing-lights disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer! If you're worried about keeping yourself covered legally, my professional recommendation would be to talk to an attorney, preferably someone with first-amendment or media law expertise.

That being said: From my experience as a journalist, there are lots of ways you could back yourself up on a story like that. You should have complete access to all of your medical records, and you should be able to get a hold of unredacted copies of any police reports, etc., generated in the course of the Baker Act being used on you (though those won't exist if law enforcement wasn't involved). As you probably know as a journalist, documents can tell one hell of a story by themselves. You could also try to interview those close to you at the time of the incident and in its wake, as well as any therapists or other professionals you were seeing at the time or have seen in the years since — essentially, report out your own life.

If you do write something, by the way, I'd love to read it.

JackHEvans45 karma

One thing that didn't make it into our stories but has been rattling around in my brain through the whole reporting process: One of the children I interviewed told me that other kids at school found out he'd been Baker Acted and cornered him about it. I asked him what that felt like. He told me that it felt like he was a superhero who'd just had his secret identity revealed in front of everyone.

JackHEvans41 karma

That's a great question. We quickly found out that we wouldn't be able to get a clear answer, at least with the means we had available to analyze police reports. In most of the police reports we requested, identifying information — such as names, of course, but also gender, race, even school grade — were redacted. The format of incident reports and the amount of redaction varied wildly from department to department: Some were almost totally untouched, while others were so heavily redacted it was impossible to tell what even happened. Whether there's any racial disparity is definitely something we're curious about, though, and it's worth us looking for other ways to attack that question as we move forward.