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.

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.

Guilty of Being Poor

Here’s something you might not know about Ferguson, Missouri: In this city of 21,000 people, 16,000 have outstanding arrest warrants. In fact, in 2013 alone, authorities issued 9,000 warrants for over 32,000 offenses.

That’s one-and-a-half offenses for every resident of Ferguson in just one year.

Most of the warrants are for minor offenses such as traffic or parking violations. And they’re part of a structural pattern of abuse, according to a recent Department of Justice investigation.

The damning report found that the city prioritized aggressive revenue collection over public safety. It documented unconstitutional policing, violations of due process, and racial bias against the majority black population.

One woman’s story illustrates what’s happening to more and more people as municipal revenues become the focus of police departments all over the country.

It began with a parking ticket back in 2007, which saddled a low-income black woman with a $151 fine and extra fees. In economic distress and frequently homeless, she was unable to pay. So she was hit with new fines and fees — and eventually an arrest warrant that landed her in jail.

By 2010, she’d paid the court $550 for the single parking violation, but more penalties had accrued. She attempted to make payments of $25 and $50, but the court rejected those partial installments.

Even after being jailed and paying hundreds of dollars above the original fine, she still owes the court $541 — all because she lacked the money to pay the initial fees.

This woman’s story is repeating itself in town after town.

It’s even worse for the homeless. A majority of cities now prohibit sitting or lying down in public, and nearly a quarter make it a crime to ask for food or money.

via Guilty of Being Poor | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.

It’s Not Just Ferguson

English: Timeline of yearly U.S criminal justi...

The Department of Justice confirmed on March 8 what many of Ferguson’s residents have been saying, and protesting against, for months: the city racks up millions of dollars each year in fines and court fees by illegally harassing its black population. What the federal government did not say, however, is that the practice of criminalizing black people to raise money for police and court systems is not rare; local governments across the country have been doing it for years—ironically, to offset the spiraling costs of the incarceration boom of the past three decades.

In an afternoon press conference, Attorney General Eric Holder described Ferguson as “a community where local authorities consistently approached law enforcement not as a means for protecting public safety, but as a way to generate revenue.” Holder said the pressure to keep revenue flowing has generated constitutional violations at “nearly every level of Ferguson’s law enforcement system”—including inappropriate use of force.

“Once the system is primed for maximizing revenue—starting with fines and fine enforcement—the city relies on the police force to serve, essentially, as a collection agency for the municipal court rather than a law enforcement entity,” said Holder, later adding, “Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.”

Holder’s conclusion, coming after an in-depth, six-month investigation in Ferguson, could have easily described many cities and local jurisdictions across the country.

Ironically, the trend appears to have been driven by the incarceration wave that preceded it. Many of the laws that states now use to impose court fees and fines were passed in the 1990s and early 2000’s. “Jurisdictions began to look for sources of funding to support their criminal justice systems,” explains Alexes Harris, a sociologist at the University of Washington who is researching the topic now.

“As a result of…hyper-incarceration that began in the mid-1970’s, systems of government could no longer afford what they were doing. Essentially, policy makers decided to shift the burden of the costs of prosecution, incarceration and criminal justice management onto the backs of the people it processed.”

While the court fees and fines generate revenue, Harris argues they are also about social control. “The legal justification for creating layers and layers of policies that allow courts to assess fines and fees from traffic tickets to misdemeanors to felony offenses is that jurisdictions need money to run their systems of justice. But in practice—in effect—the system turns into a strict system of control, and this control is over poor people.”

via It’s Not Just Ferguson | Common Dreams | Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.