Chief-Leader
October 1, 2013

 

Urge More Training for Cops to Deal With Emotionally Disturbed Persons

NYPD Questions Need, Cites Progress

By MARK TOOR

    

PATRICK J. LYNCH: ‘Best-qualified’ only criterion.

 

To the list of people waiting for Mayor Bloomberg’s term to end Jan 1, add a group that wants to provide civilian mental-health experts to help police officers deal with emotionally-disturbed persons in confrontations that it says too often end with the EDP being beaten or killed.

“The current administration has not been interested,” said Steve Coe, a veteran community activist who hosted a press conference at the City Hall steps Sept. 25. City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez said that colleague Al Vann had introduced a resolution encouraging state legislation that would adopt the Crisis Intervention Team model and that State Sen. Kevin Parker was drafting a bill.

Eye on De-Escalating

Mr. Coe said that police are trained to deal with people as criminals, something that can inflame a situation involving an EDP. Mental-health professionals in the Crisis Intervention Teams “can de-escalate a situation rather than escalate it,” he said.

“A trained individual comes to the situation to provide immediate services,” Ms. Mendez said.

Mr. Coe emphasized that the program, which has been adopted by more than 100 municipalities around the country, “is not anti-police.” For one thing, he said, the teams can remove the EDP to an alternative-treatment center, instead of a hospital emergency room where the officers involved can be tied up for hours.

“It’s just plain common sense,” said City Councilman Brad Lander, who with Jumaane Williams co-sponsored the Community Safety Act, that passed over Mr. Bloomberg’s veto, to bring the stop-and-frisk program under control. “It makes our police officers safer and will save lives.”

NYPD: ‘Logistical Issues’

NYPD spokesman John McCarthy responded in an e-mail, “While we are always willing to look at new programs and how they can help the Police Department assist the public, there are nevertheless logistical concerns with this proposal considering the volume of EDP calls we receive.” Last year, he said, the department received more than 100,000 911 calls involving emotionally-disturbed persons who could be a threat to themselves or others.

Mr. McCarthy said officers are indeed given training on how to deal with EDPs. “That training continues throughout their careers and includes workshops taught by experts in the field of psychiatry,” he said. “Moreover, Emergency Service Unit officers and our Hostage Negotiation Team members receive intensive training from mental-health professionals on how to manage the various behavior traits of individuals suffering from any potential mental-health issues.”

Further, he said, “The NYPD is on pace to have the most restrained year in history when it comes to police-involved shootings. The total number of police-involved shooting incidents has decreased 33 percent from 83 in 2012 to 56 in 2013 (as of Sept. 15).”

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said, “New York City police officers receive the best EDP training in the nation but don’t seem to get credit for the thousands upon thousands of EDP calls that are handled professionally and compassionately without incident or injury. EDP calls are a routine part of our daily workload and don’t make headlines because they are handled well.”

Too Many Overseers?

Referring to a recent decision by a Federal Judge that the stop-and-frisk program needs to be revised and laws passed by the City Council to bring the NYPD under tighter control, he added, “It appears that there are people who will not be happy until every radio car becomes a van carrying two police officers, a Federal monitor, an Inspector General and a member of the City Council, along with a doctor, a psychiatrist and a social worker. It’s becoming absurd.”

At the press conference, Council Members and patient advocates named about 10 EDPs who died in encounters with the NYPD, including Gidone Busch, Mohamed Bah, Shereese Francis and Iman Morales.

ESU cops Tasered Mr. Morales in 2008 while he was standing on a fire escape menacing cops with a glass tube. He fell to his death. In the ensuing firestorm of criticism, police bosses focused on the supervisor who gave the Taser order, Lieut. Michael Piggott. They relieved him of his weapon, transferred him out of ESU and threatened him with indictment. Lieutenant Piggott shot himself to death barely a week after Mr. Morales’s fatal fall.

More recently, police in Times Square shot at an emotionally-disturbed man, Glenn Broadnax, last month after he pantomimed pulling a gun and shooting at them. Two female bystanders were wounded. Mr. Broadnax, who was not hit, was subdued with a Taser.

Attorney Randolph McLaughlin said Mr. Bah’s mother, Hawa Bah, grew concerned that her son was seriously depressed and called 911 a year ago requesting assistance to get him treatment.

Forced Their Way In

When police arrived at their Harlem apartment, Mr. McLaughlin said, Ms. Bah asked them to leave because no crime was in progress. They forced their way into the apartment, guns drawn, ignoring Mr. Bah’s request that they leave him alone. Tensions escalated. Police said Mr. Bah lunged at the cops with a knife. They fatally shot him; he was hit by at least eight bullets.

“Mohamed would have turned 30 this week, if not for the NYPD officers who killed him instead of helping us,” Ms. Bah said. “I’m here today to seek justice for my son’s death and to help ensure that future tragedies like this are prevented.”

Mr. McLaughlin said the family is suing the department and expects that next month a grand jury will decide whether to indict the officers.

Another man, Dustin Grose, 28, who now works for Catholic Charities, described his encounter with officers five years ago after his family, worried that marijuana use had exacerbated his emotional problems, called police.

Claims Unprovoked Punch

He said he was sleeping when officers pounded on his bedroom door at 3 a.m. and told him to get dressed so they could take him to Woodhull Hospital. He complied, but when he got outside he told the officers he had changed his mind.

“A police officer then punched me in my right eye,” he said. “I fell on my stomach. They jumped on me, handcuffed me, and punched me in the face.” The officers ignored his parents’ protests, he said.

At Woodhull, he said, doctors found his nose was broken. He was handcuffed to the bed, and officers would not let him go to the bathroom.“For two years after that beating I was very afraid,” he said. “...When I heard police sirens, my heart would beat fast.”