I’m guessing that at some point in of our lives, particularly in those years dedicated to higher education, we have all heard the idea that the smartest people are the ones who can take complicated topics and distill them down into something bite-sized and manageable. But the problem is that, particularly when you are dealing with human behavior, it is impossible to simplify a situation in any kind of meaningful way. Social workers, psychologists, anyone working in the social services can all tell you that trying to create “simple” solutions for complicated (and often co-occurring) conditions like homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness is not just impossible, but irresponsible. I believe that H.L. Mencken said it best: “For every complex problem, there’s a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” Our society embraces simple solutions—likely for the same reason we embrace those who can simplify: it’s a sign of intelligence (and who doesn’t want to feel smart?)
Police officers, who deal multiple times every day with the consequences of untreated mental illness, are often faced with frustrated community members who wonder out loud why we won’t take the seemingly simple route of arresting individuals who are exhibiting anti-social behaviors like drug use in public spaces. This does seem efficient and effective on its face, but for an entirely different set of complex reasons this is never going to be the answer to the intractable problems created by the holes in our social safety net. For anyone who might need to call the Santa Monica Police Department because someone is exhibiting signs of mental illness or addiction, know that we are there to help everyone in that scenario. We are committed to protecting our entire community in a compassionate and constitutional manner—none of this is simple, but it works. We believe that public safety is the responsibility of all of us and some patience and understanding on everyone’s part will save lives and make us all safer.