All 50 US states fail to meet global police use of force standards

Every state in the US fails to comply with international standards on the lethal use of force by law enforcement officers, according to a report by Amnesty International USA, which also says 13 US states fall beneath even lower legal standards enshrined in US constitutional law and that nine states currently have no laws at all to deal with the issue.

“While law enforcement in the United States is given the authority to use lethal force, there is no equal obligation to respect and preserve human life. It’s shocking that while we give law enforcement this extraordinary power, so many states either have no regulation on their books or nothing that complies with international standards,” Amnesty USA’s executive director, Steven Hawkins said.

Amnesty found that in all 50 states and Washington DC, written statutes were too broad to fit international standards, concluding: “None of the laws establish the requirement that lethal force may only be used as a last resort with non-violent means and less harmful means to be tried first. The vast majority of laws do not require officers to give a warning of their intent to use firearms.”

via All 50 US states fail to meet global police use of force standards, report finds | US news | The Guardian.

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United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness

Jail and prison staff throughout the United States have used unnecessary, excessive, and even malicious force against prisoners with mental disabilities, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released last week.

The 127-page report, “Callous and Cruel: Use of Force against Inmates with Mental Disabilities in US Jails and Prisons,” details incidents in which correctional staff have deluged prisoners with painful chemical sprays, shocked them with powerful electric stun weapons, and strapped them for days in restraining chairs or beds. Staff have broken prisoners’ jaws, noses, ribs; left them with lacerations requiring stitches, second-degree burns, deep bruises, and damaged internal organs. In some cases, the force used has led to their death.

Staff in US correctional facilities are authorized to use force when necessary to control dangerous or highly disruptive prisoners. But as Human Rights Watch found, staff at times respond with violence when prisoners engage in behavior that is symptomatic of their mental health problems and even when it is minor and non-threatening, such as urinating on the floor, using profane language, banging on a cell door, masturbating, complaining about not receiving a meal, or refusing to come out of a cell. Staff also sometimes use force to punish inmates who annoy or anger them.

via United States: Force Against Prisoners With Mental Illness | Human Rights Watch.

L. A. spends more money policing homeless than helping

The city of Los Angeles says it spends more than $100 million per year on homelessness, for a homeless population of 23,000. More than 80% of that money is spent on things that are not “building places for the homeless to live,” which could be one reason the homeless population in L.A. is growing.

A new report shows that more than half of the $100 million the city of Los Angeles spends on homelessness each year goes to the LAPD. Critics say this illustrates the city’s priority on criminalizing the homeless instead of helping them, LA Times reports.

It “supports what we’ve been saying for years that this city is doing almost nothing to advance housing solutions but continues down the expensive and inhumane process of criminalization that only makes the problem worse,” said Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network — a skid row advocacy group.

via Los Angeles spends more money policing the homeless than helping them: report.

Guns and potentially violent persons

As we try to balance constitutional rights and public safety regarding people with mental illness, the traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily-committed psychiatric patients. But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals, according to a recent Duke University report on linking the issues of anger and access to guns.

Researchers found that anger-prone people with guns were at elevated risk for a range of fairly common psychiatric conditions such as personality disorders, alcohol abuse, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress, while only a tiny fraction suffered from acute symptoms of major disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Fewer than one in 10 angry people with access to guns had ever been admitted to a hospital for a psychiatric or substance abuse problem, the study found. As a result, most of these individuals’ medical histories wouldn’t stop them from being able to legally purchase guns under existing mental-health-related restrictions.

Researchers suggest data could support “dangerous persons” gun removal laws, like those in Connecticut and Indiana, or a “gun violence restraining order” law like California recently enacted. Such laws give family members and law enforcement a legal tool to immediately seize guns and prevent gun or ammunition purchases by people who show warning signs of impending violence.

via Nearly one in ten U.S. adults have impulsive anger issues and access to guns — ScienceDaily.

Strong neighborhood ties can help reduce gun violence

The bonds that tie a neighborhood together can help shield community members from gun violence, according to new findings by Yale School of Medicine researchers in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (RWJF CSP).

“Police and government response to the problem has focused on the victim or the criminal. Our study focuses on empowering communities to combat the effects of living with chronic and persistent gun violence.”

“Our study is a community-based and community-driven intervention to prevent and reduce the negative effects of gun violence in the communities affected by high rates of gun violence by strengthening social ties, bonds, resilience, or in other words, by ‘putting neighbor back in hood,'” said Ann Greene, community research liaison for the RWJF CSP at Yale.

Preliminary findings show that social cohesion, or the strength of bonds between neighbors, is inversely associated with exposure to gun violence, and that a multi-sector approach that includes community members is required to address and prevent gun violence.

via Strong neighborhood ties can help reduce gun violence — ScienceDaily.

Law Enforcement Officers Find Better Ways to Work With Mentally Ill

When a police officer in Memphis killed a mentally ill man who was wielding a knife, the public outcry was strong and swift. Now, 28 years later, that tragedy has given rise to a movement to teach police how to better deal with people with mental illness they encounter in the community. That movement is Crisis Intervention Training, the so-called “Memphis model” of policing that was developed in the wake of the 1987 tragedy. CIT is a curriculum to teach law enforcement officers how to recognize when someone is having a psychiatric episode, how to de-escalate these potentially explosive situations and how to keep people from jail when they need mental health treatment.

This week, hundreds of law enforcement officers along with mental health advocates and providers convened at the McKimmon Center on the NC State University campus in Raleigh for a biannual conference on helping all those people work together better to serve North Carolinians with mental health problems.

“We now have about a 26 percent rate of officers around the state who have been trained since 2013,” said Jack Register, the incoming head of the North Carolina chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The idea is that now we have people who understand that what they’re experiencing with someone is not criminality but psychiatric concerns.”

“You have to slow down and take your time with the person and don’t rush the situation,” Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said. “Sometimes people are in a point in their psychosis that you can’t talk to them. But I found more often than not, we can talk to them and calm then down.”

He said this kind of interaction can save lives.

The evidence backs Page up: Research has shown that “police-based diversions” and CIT reduced the number of arrests for people with serious mental illnesses. In one study, the number of re-arrests for people with psychiatric problems dropped by 58 percent after officers were trained. The CIT training benefits officers too; other studies have shown that fewer law enforcement personnel were injured after training.

The 40-hour training program includes basic information about mental illnesses and how to recognize them, information about and visits to providers in the local mental health system, a review of laws and contact with people with mental health problems and their family members. The goal is to help officers learn to recognize potentially explosive situations and defuse them, getting people to treatment rather than jail, or worse.

“Basic CIT … is basically set up as a diversion model to keep low-risk offenders from going into the jail system on low-level crimes as opposed to getting them into the mental health system for services,” said Lori Ray, CIT coordinator for the Durham PD.

“Our view as caregivers is the CIT training is a big plus to reduce the amount of violence that might be the normal reaction of a police officer coming in with a command presence and issuing orders that won’t be followed,” said Tom Hadley, a board member of the Wake County chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI). “The normal officer might not recognize that there’s something else going on with this person. We’re trying to avoid violence from either side.”

via Law Enforcement Officers Find Better Ways to Work With Mentally Ill | North Carolina Health News.
and Training Improves Police Response to Mental Health Crisis | North Carolina Health News.

‘Tactical Retreat’ Policy Would Emphasize Safety In Police Interactions

The St. Louis Police Department is eyeing a new strategy to deescalate tension between an officer and a suspect before a scene turns violent. Dubbed, “tactical retreat,” law enforcement officials would remove themselves from a scene to reduce the need to use deadly force.

Tactical retreat entails stepping away from a scene until an officer arrives for back up, which also allows time for a more thorough assessment of how to approach a suspect. Proponents believe that doing so is a sign of “smart policing” that can avoid deadly encounters.

However, there are many officers who contend that tactical training is actually counterproductive. On one hand, knowing that officers are expected to step back may empower suspects to the detriment of police and others close to the scene. Others view withdrawal as a sign of weakness. Moreover, many officers argue that implementing a tactical retreat policy actually undermines police efforts to uphold public safety, insofar as it paints them as the aggressors who need to be reformed.

John Firman, the Director of Development of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, disagrees with opponents of the deescalation method. “The only case you wouldn’t do that is if someone’s life is critically at risk at that time, for instance if the person is shooting at someone else,” he explained. “The real question is, ‘How soon do you need compliance’? If a person is mentally ill and they’re wandering around and screaming at people, they’re not going to comply. If I’m an autistic child and you say ‘stand up,’ I’m not going to comply. How quickly do you need compliance, how much do you need, and what are the threats to safety? A smart officer is going to assess all of that and do anything necessary to minimize potential that there’s going to be further damage.”

via ‘Tactical Retreat’ Policy Would Emphasize Safety In Police Interactions | ThinkProgress.