Police shootings: Distraught people, deadly results

Police increasingly acknowledge that they have few effective tools for handling the mentally ill. In interviews, current and former police chiefs said that without large-scale police retraining, as well as a nationwide increase in mental health services, these deadly encounters will continue.

Severe budget cuts for psychiatric services — by as much as 30 percent in some states in recent years — have created a vacuum that local police are increasingly asked to fill, they said.

“We as a society need to put more money and funding into treating the mentally ill. We need to work with these people . . . before they end in tragedy,” said Mike Carter, the police chief in Sand Springs, Okla.

Police are taught to employ tactics that tend to be counterproductive in such encounters, experts said. For example, most officers are trained to seize control when dealing with an armed suspect, often through stern, shouted commands.

But yelling and pointing guns is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range. But training is no panacea, experts caution.

The mentally ill are unpredictable. Moreover, police often have no way of knowing when they are dealing with a mentally ill person. Officers are routinely dispatched with information that is incomplete or wrong. And in a handful of cases this year, police were prodded to shoot someone who wanted to die.

via Police shootings: Distraught people, deadly results | The Washington Post.

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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.

‘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.

Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens

The Obama administration on Thursday issued a report accusing the Cleveland police department of using excessive and deadly force against citizens in violation of their constitutional rights, the latest development in a growing national debate over the fairness of local police tactics, especially in minority communities.

According to the Justice Department report, Cleveland police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unnecessary force — including shooting residents, striking them in the head and spraying them with chemicals. The Justice Department and the city agreed to establish an independent monitor to oversee changes in the police department, including better training and supervision of officers. And the Justice Department urged Cleveland civic leaders to hold police accountable for their improper actions when necessary.

“In recent days, millions of people throughout the nation have come together — bound by grief and anguish — in response to the tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City,” Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said at a news conference. “The tragic losses of these and far too many other Americans . . . have raised urgent national questions. And they have sparked an important conversation about the sense of trust that must exist between law enforcement and the communities they serve and protect.’’

via Cleveland police tactics violated rights of citizens, Justice Department probe finds – The Washington Post.

America, we have a problem

Too many times the criminal justice system tells black people their lives do not matter. That’s why Ferguson was not alone in its demonstrations Monday night. We’ve seen the not so subtle, dehumanizing reminders play out so many times this year alone — reminders that the rules don’t apply to people of color and whites in quite the same way.

Back in August, for example, KDVR-TV reported 18-year-old Steve Lohner walked the streets of Aurora, Colorado — the scene of the horrific 2012 movie theater shootings — with a loaded shotgun around his shoulder. Though Colorado is an open carry state, the 911 calls poured in. Police arrived and calmly asked the teen for his ID. He refused, saying he was carrying the gun “for the defense of myself and those around me.”

On the video the teen captured during the confrontation, an officer speaks to him with his hands down, tucked in his belt — and not on his gun. Do you honestly believe a black teenager would have the same experience? Especially when you consider that same month, in Ohio — also an open carry state — a 911 call was made about a man with a gun in Walmart. Store surveillance video shows John Crawford III picking up a pellet gun in the toy department before stopping by the pet supplies aisle. He was on the phone with the mother of his two children. Within seconds of police entering the store he was shot, according to news reports.

We still have a race problem in this country. And too many of us work harder at denying race has anything to do with the world we live in today than listening and empathizing with those who are hurting. But tell me, at what point will the kinds of killings that we are seeing time after time after time across this country be described as what they are?

Racism.

via On Ferguson: America, we have a problem Opinion – CNN.com.

Mentally Ill Victims of Excessive Police Force

What we do know is that the mentally ill are dramatically more likely to be the victims of excessive police force, and to be the victims of death by cop. A study by the Portland Press Herald in Maine found that nearly half of people shot by police between 2000 and 2012 were mentally ill, and that police lack proper training on defusing deadly conflicts. A KQED review in San Francisco this year found a similar proportion of mentally ill victims. In several other cities including Portland, Oregon, and Albequerque, New Mexico, Department of Justice investigations have concluded that officers have systematically used more force than necessary against the mentally ill, leading to deaths or serious injuries in many instances.Mental Illness logo-wBanner

It’s a common scenario for police interactions with the mentally ill to escalate from what starts as a call for help. In fact, while Cleveland police didn’t turn to their guns, police do in many other instances. Last month, a psychiatric patient was shot and killed last month while being transported to a mental institution. One of the police shootings that prompted a scathing DOJ investigation of the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police was a shooting of a suicidal Iraq War veteran who was pointing a gun at his own head. And last year, several prominent police shootings involved incidents in which family members of the victims had called the police for help.

Protocol that are typical for potentially violent incidents — such as barking police commands — can actually have an adverse impact on those with mental illness. Particularly in instances when police know before they arrive on the scene that a patient is suffering from mental illness — in fact is in need of police help precisely because of their mental illness — some police departments deploy special mental health crisis teams.

Among the recommendations of a 2012 report to police chiefs on the use of force against those with mental illness or addiction problems are “slowing down the situation” by getting a supervisor to the scene, and identifying “chronic consumers” of police services. But these tactics are under-employed in many police interventions.

via How Did This Unarmed Schizophrenic Woman End Up Dead At The Hands Of Police? | ThinkProgress.