Who Will Be the First?

Unknown-1HERE’S THE PROBLEM: Many Americans believe that police use of deadly force is too frequent, unfair, and unreasonable. This belief, whether true or not, causes an erosion of public trust and support which ends up creating situations in which police are not only ineffective, but physically unsafe. 

So who is going to be the first police leader in the U.S. to stand up and say they are going to reduce their department’s use of deadly force — implementing policies and training that will save lives; especially the lives of those who are distressed and often with an edged weapon, and those who find themselves in a standoff with police?

Our nation’s police cannot continue to take the lives of mentally ill and distressed persons in these situations. They MUST find a better way to resolve them.

This is important. The way this question is answered will determine the future of police-community relations in our country and the effectiveness of tomorrow’s police leaders.

  • “Stand for what is right, even if it means standing alone!”



  1. “Our nation’s police cannot continue to take the lives of mentally ill and distressed persons in these situations. They MUST find a better way to resolve them.” We have made the county jail the mental health institution by cutting health and human service budgets;… many teachers that I talk with are concerned about the school to prison pipeline… I visited a former student who is in a criminal institution an — but I know his family and I know his reading level was about 4th grade and he had severe developmental disabilities (what we might have called “brain damage from birth”. He never graduated high school and could not get a GED. The current policies are making the GED opportunities much more difficult for students 16 -30 and it is unfair. Society has dumped the people out of state hospitals for developmental disabilities directly into the streets and into the jails. Many of my friends are aware of this (teachers or retired teachers). One who writes blogs about it is Mark Naison at Fordham University … we are trying to approach similar problems and issues with the skills and training that we have as teachers and it is frustrating . The police officers should not be left alone to deal with these issues given the skills and training they have — we need better solutions and better resources.


  2. Policies and procedures aside, it doesn’t really accomplish anything for a police chief to say anything. It’s up to the individual cops to make changes, changes in perception. As long as the individual cop is racist as many are, or afraid, terrified by having to deal with the public, believing that the next person he/she meets, whether a child, adult, old person, disabled person in a wheelchair, whoever he/she meets with a stick, knife, toy gun, water hose nozzle, or even someone that disagrees with or “disrespects” them, is going to kill them, unless the cop kills them first, the problem is going to continue.
    One way to solve this problem is to disband police unions, get rid of or modify POBAR, and get rid of the double standard, and prosecuting cops who kill just like anybody else. No more paid vacations, no more giving them the opportunity to refine their stories, no more “I was afraid for my life” excuse, among other changes.
    We need to get rid of the trigger happy, eager to kill for any, or no, reason cops, who know that their “brothers/sisters” in blue will maintain Omerta, the blue wall of silence, and protect them if for no other reason than the fear of retaliation or being ostracized, very much like in the Mafia or any other gang.
    There’s also a problem with juries who release clearly guilty cops, i.e. Ramos who murdered Kelly Thomas for example, out of misguided admiration, or fear of retaliation.
    The instances of Frank Serpico in New York city, or in Florida, the cop who pulled over another off duty cop for going over 100 miles an hour, in his patrol car, because he was late for his off duty job, are good examples that even other cops, “good cops,” have a problem stopping police abuse or misconduct. He got no back up on a drug bust and was shot in the head, for complaining about corruption in the NYPD. She found rats left on her car and she was harassed by people parking near her house and was eventually reassigned all because she did the right thing but against another cop. Both were ostracized and intimidated for doing the right thing. Will they do it again? Probably not….


  3. There is an over reliance on police to address mental illness in our communities. We simply cannot keep throwing police at the problem and desperately need more resources for the mental illness crisis occurring in our urban cities. Last year officers on my department responded several times to a man in a drug induced psychoses who was suicidal over a 10 day period. Each time they brought him to an ER for treatment. The man promised to follow through on a plan made with an ER doc for stabilization and was released. He never followed up and never stabilized. The next time we responded he ended up wounded by police after being shot. Had the teeth of social services kicked in to provide resources to stabilize this individual, this officer involved shooting likely would not have happened. After this incident, I successfully sought funding for an embedded social worker inside the PD to deal with suddenly acute mental illness cases that are coming to police attention.

    The teeth of social services often take weeks or months to kick in while the officers on the street deal with the same issues over and over due to lack of resources. This “co-responder” model has a social worker looking for the cases that are volatile and she floods those individuals with services by pulling in all available resources-swiftly. Also, she will respond on certain mental illness calls. It has been so successful I am seeking finding for more of these positions. Just since 2007, my city’s mental illness related calls have risen by 50%. We use to see 12 or so suicides death a year; this week alone we have had four suicide deaths!

    We simply need more resources for mental illness and cannot continue to have the police shoulder the brunt of this crisis that is impacting the most vulnerable people of our cities.


    1. Chief, you are on target (and congrats on the Wichita job!). The best model I encountered was the one we put together in the 1970s with county mental health (it has since be discontinued due to lack of funding). This was a collaborative relationship between police and mental health workers. It was a 24/7 unit available for police to call in situations involving persons mentally ill. A police officers with an MSW was assigned to coordinate. But I think we must realize today that responding to the mentally ill is such a common event in our society that EVERY police officer needs to have the skills in making an effective response — not just a specialized unit. Then we’ve got to figure out how not to kill those who find themselves holding an edged weapon in a standoff with police. Public officials must understand that funding the training for such an endeavor is cost-effective in the long run because it saves lives and huge settlements with the families of deceased persons.


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