Brianna Grier: After another mental patient dies in police custody, experts call for widespread training and health resources

Garrett said Phoenix police shot and killed Michelle Cusseaux in her apartment after threatening officers with a hammer. The police, Garrett said, were not properly trained to respond to someone like Cusseaux, who was schizophrenic.

“The police are not mental health or mental illness professionals,” Garrett told CNN. “A schizophrenic, paranoid person, the first thing they do when they see an officer in uniform is panic. They resist.”

Garrett successfully lobbied for the city to improve its response to reports of people having mental health crises. In 2017, Phoenix deployed a “mental health squad” made up of officers who receive special training in crisis intervention, negotiation and tactical skills designed to de-escalate situations with people with mental illness.

“They made changes,” Garrett said. “I wanted to prevent this from happening to anyone else.”

While Phoenix police have made changes, across the country people with mental illness continue to die at the hands of police or in police custody.

The family of Brianna Grier, 28, said she had a mental health episode in July when she was arrested in Georgia before falling out of a police cruiser and dying. Investigators have concluded that the rear passenger-side door of the patrol car, near where Grier was seated, was never closed. His funeral is scheduled for Thursday at West Hunter Street Baptist Church in Atlanta. Reverend Al Sharpton will deliver the eulogy.

Experts say deaths like Grier’s underscore a larger issue of whether police are properly trained and equipped to respond to reports of people having mental health crises.

A study conducted by the Treatment Promotion Center found that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed in a confrontation with police. It also found that people with untreated mental illness were involved in at least 1 in 4 fatal shootings by police.

The risk for black people with mental illness is even higher, experts say.

Call for a national solution

In addition to Phoenix, cities including denver, New York and Chicago have piloted mental health crisis intervention programs. But advocates are calling for a national solution that requires all police to be trained in how to handle mental health crises. Some have also offered partnerships with mental health professionals who can respond around the clock to reports involving people with mental illness.

Johnny Rice, an associate professor of criminal justice at Coppin State University, said he believes in a layered approach to law enforcement.

More than a dozen cities are pushing to minimize or even eliminate police presence on mental health calls

All officers should have mandatory training, and community mental health counselors should assist them on calls involving mental health episodes, Rice said.

The training should also include lessons on cultural sensitivity, he said. People of color with mental illness often already face trauma and existing community violence that law enforcement should consider when responding.

“The stigma of mental illness cannot be something that influences the response,” Rice said. “They need to be officers who are sensitive and aware of the issue and who also understand that they have resources and tools that can help them ensure that someone does not harm themselves or others. .”

The risks of police presence

Some mental health advocates say the police shouldn’t even be involved in the response unless the mentally ill person is armed and poses a threat to others.

Earlier this year, a national hotline “988” was deployed to connect callers to crisis prevention services. A 24-hour call center takes calls and dispatches teams to respond to suicidal crises or mental health-related distress.

Lauren Bonds, legal director of the National Police Accountability Project, said the police are not trained mental health professionals and their presence during a mental health crisis poses a high risk because they are armed.

Bonds noted that police are trained to respond to perceived violence or erratic behavior using force. She said “co-responder” programs where police and mental health professionals show up together have also not been successful: Officers still take control of the response, leaving the risk of violence policewoman.

“I think the best response is to have a purely civilian crisis response team that families can call into these situations,” Bonds said. “They always have the option of calling the police after they assess the situation. But I think keeping the police away, at least for the initial assessment, and giving families the opportunity to know they can getting help for their loved one without the possibility of a police officer killing a loved one is really important.”

Daniel Prude's brother said he was acting erratically and suicidal before his deadly interaction with police

In Grier’s case, her family said she had a history of mental health episodes and they called the police multiple times. His father, Marvin Grier, said police usually called an ambulance service to transport Grier to the hospital for help. But on July 15, Hancock County sheriff’s deputies came alone, handcuffed Grier and placed her in the back of the patrol car to take her into custody for allegedly resisting arrest.

In addition to the door not being locked, family attorney Ben Crump alleges police failed to secure Grier with a seatbelt while she was handcuffed in the back of the car. police.

“If we knew what we know now, we wouldn’t have called them (the police),” Marvin Grier told CNN. “We were dealing with what was happening with her alone and she would have been here. It’s a bad situation that our daughter left here in good shape and ended up (dead).”

There are also striking racial disparities with police encounters.

According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people. Some research suggests that the the risk of death increases for blacks who show signs of mental illness.

West Resendes, an ACLU staff attorney, said the stigma surrounding mental illness makes black communities — which suffer from over-surveillance and higher incarceration rates — even more vulnerable.

“When we add to that the intersectional layer of mental health disability, it exponentially increases the likelihood of that person having adverse contact with law enforcement,” Resendes said.

The need for better systems

Law enforcement experts agree that police officers are not properly trained to deal with people with mental disorders.

Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant with the Redono Beach Police Department in California, said police should be the last agency to respond to a mental health call unless weapons are involved and lives are at stake. in danger.

There is a new approach to police response to mental health emergencies.  get the police out of this

When the police respond and the situation escalates, it’s possible someone will be hurt, she said. But people keep calling the police because in most cases there is no alternative, Goldstein said.

There hasn’t been enough investment in infrastructure to ensure there are mental health workers available around the clock and enough beds in psychiatric units to accommodate people, Goldstein said.

She called on lawmakers to budget more money for community health and safety.

“We can’t build systems without investing heavily in mental health infrastructure,” Goldstein said. “We don’t have systems and it’s not law enforcement’s fault.”

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