For a decade, some mental health experts have complained that San Francisco police have needlessly harmed mentally ill people in crisis, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. They say officers are too quick to fire, turning run-ins with people behaving irrationally into deadly shootings. While other cities with far fewer mentally disturbed people started special training, San Francisco moved slowly, even though a quarter of all calls to police involve the mentally ill. In 2001, when a mentally ill man was shot to death in a theater complex, only 30 officers had completed a training program that had been endorsed by the Police Commission almost half a decade earlier but begun just the month before.
Today, more than five years after the department started a specialized 40-hour training program, about 39 percent of the patrol force has taken it. Nearly three-fourths of the patrol force has taken a short eight-hour version. “The fact that it’s taken since 1996 and fewer than half of the officers have been trained is indicative of willfully negligent practice,” said Marykate Connor of Caduceus Outreach Services, which works with the mentally ill. Police and others involved in the training say they use numerous strategies that fall short of gunfire to resolve volatile encounters with the mentally ill. “I think the SFPD is very restrained en masse in their use of lethal force,” said Pablo Stewart, a psychiatrist who is former director of forensic mental health services for San Francisco.