2008-02-29 / Editorial/Opinion

Madmen Roaming Our Streets

We would doubt that anybody believes that the system worked the way it was designed to work in the case of accused murderer David Tarloff, who brutally took a meat cleaver to therapist Kathryn Faughey in Manhattan earlier this month. Tarloff was arrested at St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway on February 1, when he tangled with a security guard who reportedly saw Tarloff in bed with his critically-ill mother. Tarloff was held overnight at the hospital for psychiatric evaluation. He was seen by Dr. Reddy Bezwada, a staff psychiatrist, who decided that Tarloff "did not require further psychiatric treatment," and released him. The court then used Bezwada's determination to release Tarloff on his own recognizance. Tarloff then went off and brutally murdered Faughey and injured a psychiatrist who came to her aid. The problem is that neither Bezwada nor the judge had any record of Tarloff's past mental problems. Last June, for example, police took him to Elmhurst Hospital after he threatened to kill everybody at the nursing home in which his mother lived in at the time. His father moved his mother often to keep Tarloff from visiting her and they had an order of protection against him. There should be some record-keeping device that would allow both mental health professionals and law enforcement personnel to know the past history of people admitted for psychiatric evaluations prior to putting them back on the street. The Tarloff case is only one tip of the iceberg of a problem that allows madmen and women to roam our streets. The plight of the untreated mentally-ill has been a public-safety problem ever since "deinstitutionalization" emptied psychiatric wards forty years ago. Rockaway has its share of the mentally ill wandering the shopping areas, demanding handouts, hassling passersby, occasionally shoplifting local stores and assaulting local residents. Perhaps the time has come to find a way to ensure that repeat offenders are kept off the streets and that movement begins with a database that can be used to identify the dangerous and protect the public.

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