Did Seattle Police Training Fail in Killing of Mother?

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Seattle has won praise for its training of police officers to deal with people in mental-health crises. Officers averaged 27 encounters a day with people in crisis over a three-month period. They used force in 2 percent of those cases, the Seattle Times reports. That’s “tremendous” work, said a report by the federal monitor overseeing an agreement to eliminate excessive force by officers. What happened on June 18, when two crisis-trained officers shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a young mother whose family said she was struggling with mental illness and was concerned authorities would take her children? Did the officers deviate from their training? Did they follow it to an unfortunate, tragic end?

Police said that after Lyles reported a burglary in her small apartment, an apparently calm conversation with the responding officers turned dangerous. One of the officers said she suddenly had a knife. Sue Rahr, a former sheriff who heads the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, spoke generally about training for a situation in which a person suddenly threatens officers in close quarters with a weapon and children are present. In most crisis scenarios, officers are trained to use “time and space” to de-escalate danger. They try to slow down actions and create distance between them and the person in crisis to buy time, talk and defuse tension, Rahr said. If officers face an immediate deadly threat they should respond with deadly force, she said. Officers Steven McNew and Jason Anderson could have tried using a Taser to stun Lyles. Neither officer was carrying one. Seattle officers are required to carry a Taser, a baton or pepper spray.

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