A report by the Washington Post shows close to a quarter of the 462 people shot by police this year so far showed signs of mental illness. In most cases the police were not responding to a crime.
These findings will be unsurprising to many involved in the growing movement for police accountability, which asserts that not only are police ill-equipped and inadequately trained to deal with incidences that involve people with mental illness, but that a systemic aversion to prosecuting and convicting police effectively encourages a pattern escalating violence.
According to a report by the American Psychiatric Assocation, Less than 20 percent of US law enforcement agencies receive Crisis Intervention Training. CIT is described as “a collaborative effort among law enforcement, advocacy, and mental health communities,” and is aimed at reducing the amount of deaths following encounters with the police. Even in cases where law enforcement agencies have received this training, however, there still exists a tendency to employ unnecessary deadly force.
On March 16, 2014, Albuquerque police officers Keith Sandy and Dominique Perez concluded a standoff by opening fire and killing James Boyd, a mentally ill homeless man who was camping in the Sandia Mountains. Although CIT-trained officers were present and even spoke to Boyd, who appeared to respond positively, officers still chose to shoot and kill him. A video of the incident is below:
(Warning: This video may be disturbing to some viewers, discretion is advised)
Terell J. Starr, a senior editor at Alternet, spoke to former New York cop Eric Sanders about deadly police shootings. Sanders, who is now a civil rights attorney, is of the opinion that fewer people would be shot by police if they were more frequently held accountable for using unnecessary force.
“Training will reduce the likelihood of having these problems, but you know what else will reduce these problems? Holding people accountable,” Sanders said. “That is left out of the conversation. When officers don’t follow their training, there should be consequences for it. We taught you we don’t want you to respond in this way, because by responding in this way, you’ve escalated the situation to a level where you had to use force. You didn’t follow tactics, therefore, you violated the policy.”
“It is very rare you hear that,” Sanders added.
In some police departments it is exceedingly rare for an officer to even be indicted for using deadly force, let alone convicted. Until last year, the Dallas police department, which employs close to 3,500 officers to patrol a population of over 1 million people, had gone 40 years without a single officer being indicted for shooting someone to death. At that time, the Dallas police department had killed over 50 people in the past decade alone.
Earlier this month, TruthVoice reported a case where a Palm Beach County police officer shot an unarmed bicyclist just seconds after pulling him over. Rather than facing criminal charges or disciplinary action, Adams Lin, who had a long history of complaints for excessive force, was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
While many of those killed by police who show signs of mental illness might have been helped by cops having access to more comprehensive instruction, the frequency with which police face discipline for using deadly force indicates the problem may supersede a lack of police training.
Written by David Neely, Editor for TruthVoice