05/16/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Schizophrenic Does Not Mean Violent

A recent op-ed in the L.A. Times, "Law and disorders," noted in its subhed that "Untreated, some mentally ill people pose a deadly risk." While the use of the word "deadly" strikes me as being a bit sensationalistic, I can't really disagree with the central point made by the writer, Carla Jacobs. She cites three cases of schizophrenics who lost their bearings and who, she argues, should have received compulsory treatment under Laura's Law, a California statute, which according to the Times has been adopted by only two counties in the state, one of them being Los Angeles.

Two of the schizophrenics allegedly went on to commit murder, which might have been averted had authorities forced them to receive treatment and medication in a mental-health facility.

Based on Jacobs' piece, the third schizophrenic, whom Jacobs mentions before the other two, appears not to have committed any crime. As per Jacobs, the San Bernardino police discovered this individual, Terry Jackson, in an "agitated" state, "behaving bizarrely in a park." The police ended up shooting Jackson.

I do not know any other facts regarding Jackson's case. It is possible that he threatened the officers, but there is no indication of that in Jacobs' op-ed. The only other piece of information we have is a quote from Jackson's mother, who said that when her son did not take his meds, "he would start talking to aliens."

As I have noted elsewhere, I too was once diagnosed a schizophrenic, though the diagnosis was likely incorrect, and my psychosis was so severe in 1999 that I thought my girlfriend, now wife, Barbara, was an alien or a CIA spy. I must emphasize that I was never a threat to anyone but myself.

If all Jackson did was act agitated, behave bizarrely and think that he could talk to aliens, then he was not so different from me.

I have mentioned numerous times before that the severely mentally ill who have no substance abuse problems commit only 3 to 4% of violent crime. Nonetheless, these criminals do exist.

It appears likely that John Patrick Bedell, who was killed after a recent shootout with two guards at the Pentagon, was mentally ill. He also apparently did not take his medication and was a heavy user of marijuana, which studies show can exacerbate psychosis. After the shooting, his parents attributed his violent act to his mental illness.

According to Wikipedia, Bedell, who was from Hollister, Calif., suffered from bipolar disorder and was "institutionalized several times." He had a well-known hatred for the government, which is not uncommon among lone-wolf gunmen, but he also reportedly wanted to create a marijuana-based currency, which suggests he was lost in delusion.

Jacobs would argue correctly that Bedell was a man who should have been forced into treatment via Laura's Law.

My wife had her own experience years ago with a violent man who had been let out of a California mental institution. Her first husband, who had been diagnosed a schizophrenic, threatened to kill her. As it turns out, he was never delusional or hallucinatory and probably not mentally ill at all, just a hardened wife abuser.

I agree with Jacobs that it is crucial for the severely mentally ill to get back on their medication (I made such a point in an op-ed I wrote for the L.A. Times in 2008), and I support her argument in favor of Laura's Law, which if implemented statewide will undoubtedly replicate Kendra's Law, a New York statute, in reducing arrests, incarcerations, hospitalizations and homelessness.

I simply think that it is important to remind readers that the vast majority of violent crime is committed not by the mentally ill, but by vicious thugs and psychopaths.