More than 120 encounters between Houston police and people with mental illness ended with officers using their Tasers to control troubled suspects, found a Houston Chronicle review of more than 1,000 incidents since 2004. In many cases, officers were forewarned they were about to encounter someone with mental health issues – yet almost never did they call on colleagues specially trained to deal with the mentally ill to calm a volatile episode.
Most of the people officers stunned with their Tasers carried no weapon. Fewer than one in four were later convicted of a crime. Some had committed violent crimes, threatened others or harmed themselves. But most were people who failed to follow officers’ orders in the fog of their mental confusion. Police Chief Harold Hurtt defended the use of Tasers as a way to prevent potentially dangerous situations from escalating. “Using a Taser is easy,” said Arlene Kelly, who became an advocate for the mentally ill after her daughter was shot and killed by a police officer in 1999. “There’s no waiting. There’s no need to be patient with someone who may not understand orders. The Taser has represented a step backward in how police deal with the mentally ill.”