A Baltimore police shootout took place in the city’s Bel Air suburb between a Special Response Team and an off-duty Baltimore County officer and highlights a significant issue in American society. James L. Ward, a 19-year veteran of BCoPD had been drinking heavily and according to the sheriff’s department, was suicidal.
Police were called after several shots were fired inside Ward’s home. On arrival at the scene, police promptly formed a barricade around Ward’s home and crisis negotiators attempted to convince Ward to surrender peacefully. After several hours, the off-duty officer fired several shots into a tactical rescue vehicle.
Harford County police returned fire and Ward was eventually airlifted to a local hospital with injuries reported as serious but not life-threatening. Following the incident, Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson released this statement:
‘I am shocked and saddened at the actions of one of our officers this afternoon. I am thankful that none of the first responders and police personnel who handled this call were physically injured. We hope that the Baltimore County officer involved in this incident receives the medical help he apparently needs so desperately.’
The officers who fired at Ward have been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, as is standard procedure. And Ward himself will be suspended without pay as soon as felony charges are filed. According to the department, there are no open Internal Affairs cases involving Ward.
While it’s certainly too soon to say anything definitive about Ward’s mental state or the underlying causes that led to the confrontation, it’s certainly time this country took the time to reevaluate how to handle mental health issues across the board. If the particulars of a Baltimore police shootout don’t prompt that response, then maybe this will. Suicide rates in this country have now skyrocketed to a thirty-year high.
The rates for middle-aged women are up an alarming 63 percent and 43 percent for middle-aged men. Ward, who is 42 years old certainly fits all too comfortably into that last demographic. Blame it on financial difficulties, drug addiction, or an ever more unstable world if you like. The truth is that while these may all be factors, Americans need better access to mental health services overall and to be able to connect to those same services without fear of being stigmatized or otherwise judged.