Washington Post has decided to take details of officer-involved shootings and compile this year’s data to detect patterns.
One pattern that soon became clear: the significant amount of mentally unstable people who are shot on site.
Last year, I wrote about one such instance in “Naked? Acting Weird? On-site Execution by Police.” I only wanted to show that strange behavior does not warrant a threat or a reason to kill (especially when considering that there are still less-than-lethal methods available).
It looks like Washington Post agrees for the most part, when it comes a volatile situation possibly made worse by volatile reactions.
From the Washington Post report (emphasis and red comments are mine):
Nationwide, police have shot and killed 124 people this year who […] were in the throes of mental or emotional crisis, according to a Washington Post analysis. The dead account for a quarter of the 462 people shot to death by police [the number is actually up to 552 now] in the first six months of 2015.
The vast majority were armed [with? was it on a nearby table? because apparently that counts], but in most cases, the police officers who shot them were not responding to reports of a crime. More often, the police officers were called by relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically, reports show. More than 50 people were explicitly suicidal.
More than half the killings involved police agencies that have not provided their officers with state-of-the-art training to deal with the mentally ill. And in many cases, officers responded with tactics that quickly made a volatile situation even more dangerous.
“This a national crisis,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization devoted to improving policing. “We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.”
He’s right – it needs to change.
People keep asking for more officer training. Think about that request. Asking for the ability to instantly detect mental illness or disabilities and leave them alone. But what we want is to end unnecessary, on-site executions for everyone except for extreme life-threatening situations. An emotionally distraught person is not a threat. Home invasions should be stopped immediately and SWAT should have nothing to do with emotional calls or wait until after midnight to bust into someone’s home.
Police departments continue to bulk up thanks to the 1033 program that provides armored vehicles and war-like gear. They promise they won’t use them but for extreme situations but they crash homes if there has been an anonymous tip of emotional distress (no escalation here). They say they need such items for live active-shooter situations, but those are so rare – in 2014 alone, police killed more American citizens than all victims from U.S. mass shootings combined.
It sounds like what we need is some officer un-training. The crux of the problem is training that American citizens are always a threat, threats must be eliminated and there is no such thing as excessive force. It’s undeniably over-kill. The reduction of shootings for all people could protect the lives of unstable or distraught people that need real, sensible help – and the ones who didn’t need help but were the victims of anonymous tips and welfare check requests. It simply makes no sense at all to call for help when someone is upset or suicidal, only to have them possibly killed when help arrives. Furthermore, let’s leave elderly off the list of brutalization – it’s incredibly dishonorable to the profession, the culture and the country.
To realize the facts that to shoot first due to “fear for my life” in the strangest circumstances shows, at best, someone who is not equipped to handle the authority and responsibility – at worst, someone who gravitated to the position to have an excuse to take life with impunity. The 50 police killed on the job last year is ridiculously eclipsed by the 1,100+ killed by police in the same year. Police can handle this authority and responsibility with honor, and without risking their own lives – they can be accountable. There is no reason more Americans should die in their own country at the hands of officials, than American soldiers lost to insurgents during battle for the same amount of time. No more rationalizing; it’s time they desire to have their honor back and stop viewing their neighbors as objects.
Lastly, when an officer shows great skill at de-escalating a situation and taking care of someone in distress instead of “eliminating the threat” – why fire that man? Why make a case that he was old, hesitated and not up to speed? He was trained old-school….
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