How Can Police Better Handle Mental Illness Calls?

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Daniel Prude was experiencing a mental health crisis in March when Rochester police officers responding to a 911 call pinned him to the pavement while handcuffed and naked, suffocating him to death. In April, Nicolas Chavez, 27, was “having a mental breakdown” in Houston when he was shot by police 21 times. Last week, 13-year-old Linden Cameron, who has autism, was having an episode when officers shot him. Amid a nationwide movement for police reform, critics have spoken out against police shootings of people in mental health crises. While some call for more training in crisis intervention, others promote alternative emergency responder programs, says USA Today. “A person shouldn’t lose their life because they’re experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition,” said Angela Kimball of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which says that nearly 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into jails have serious mental health conditions.

Since 2015, police have fatally shot more than 1,200 people with mental illnesses, according to a Washington Post database. Of the nearly 700 people shot and killed by police so far this year, more than 100 had a mental illness. In police training academies, officers may receive anywhere between four and 12 hours of training in mental health, says Louisiana State University criminologist Peter Scharf. While some protesters want to defund police departments, he says, “The theme should not be defund the police but make the police better. The (Prude) case is the poster child of our inability to handle a growing problem on mentally ill people. Right now, we have a possibly pretty untrained police force to handle a variety of issues.” Some police departments, including Los Angeles and San Antonio, have partnered with mental health professionals to work as “co-responders,” assisting cops responding to incidents involving a mental health crisis.

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