Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police announced on Thursday that it will no longer use the term “excited delirium” due to it being linked to past deaths of minorities during police incidents.
The decision dates to earlier this year when the Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a report showing how the history of the term “excited delirium” through analyzing medical literature, news archives, and transcripts of wrongful death cases. The report showed that excited delirium started being used in the mid-80s with many deaths of minorities under the influence of drugs or undergoing mental illness breaks were found to be in an extreme state of agitation or delirium. Of the 166 reported deaths caused by excited delirium between 2010 and 2020, African-Americans alone accounted for 43.3% of cases.
Since the report came out in March, BART police had been mulling over the changes due to previous controversial incidents in which the term was used. On Thursday, BART officially announced the change, with the official policy change reading “Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) (1997 Nobel Peace Prize Co-laureate) reconstructed the history of the term through a review of medical literature, news archives, and deposition transcripts of expert witnesses in wrongful death cases. PHR’s 2022 report concludes that the term ‘excited delirium’ cannot be disentangled from its racist and unscientific origins and therefore should not be cited as a cause of death. PHR found that ‘excited delirium’ is not a valid, independent medical or psychiatric diagnosis.”
BART officials, who said that the step was part of BART police becoming the most progressive transit law enforcement agency in the country, agreed with the new change.
“This policy change affirms BPD’s commitment to continuous improvement through policy changes and ongoing training that exceeds industry standards,” explained BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez.
BART Independent Police Auditor Russell Bloom also added that “Removing this terminology from the BPD policy manual is a meaningful step toward racial equity in policing at BART. I and my team look forward to monitoring the implementation of this policy revision.”
New revisions by BART Police
Those who wrote the report also praised the Department accepted the revisions suggested by the PHR.
“We applaud BART’s decision to abandon the use of ‘excited delirium’ and call on other law enforcement agencies around the country to follow their example,” said report co-author Joanna Naples Mitchell on Thursday. “Ending the use of this pseudoscientific term is an important first step and we urge BART to ensure full implementation of this change in policy and practice. ‘Excited delirium’ was dangerous and destructive from its inception in the 1980’s. It has no place in modern medicine or law enforcement. BART’s approach should become a model for other police departments to change their policies.”
However, while applauded by many, other law enforcement agencies worry that removing terms that lead to arrests need to have more analysis, such as statistics showing if the removal could cause crime to rise or if those arrested could escape justice as a result of the term removal.
“It’s good to change outdated terms, especially those that are linked to racial issues of the past,” explained former policeman James Antonelli to the Globe on Friday. “But you need to base it off more than one study. You need a few studies as ammunition, as well as a study showing that the removal won’t inadvertently won’t lead to a rise of crime or anything like that. A lot of past terms and law wordings were changed that way. BART police needed to go off more than just a single report, but that obviously didn’t happen.”
Other police departments are expected to looking at similar policy changes in the near future.
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