On December 28th 2015, police shot and killed Lonnie Nelson at the Phoenix Police Department. Nelson was seen throwing “bricks or rocks” at Phoenix Police Department property including a patrol car and the station itself. Nelson was shot when he threw a brick at the officer confronting him. The projectile missed hitting the officer directly, but bounced off a tree and grazed his hand. The officer shot and killed Nelson who was otherwise unarmed at the time of the shooting.
According to Nelson’s family members he had stolen a gun and bottle of liquor the day before the attack, but he had returned the weapon before leaving home Saturday morning, the day of the attack. He was apparently intoxicated and making suicidal statements before he left.
The incident ignited national concerns about the use of excessive force when apprehending suspects. With more and more social advocates focusing on the increasing numbers of police killings of often unarmed people, Nelson’s death promotes discussion of appropriate police conduct in tense situations.
In 2015 alone 1,125 people were killed by police in U.S. which is nearly 47 times the number of citizens killed by police in England and Wales. Additionally, it has been shown that people suffering from mental illness account for a large portion of these victims. The Washington Post found that 243 of the 965 people shot and killed by police in 2015 showed signs of mental illness.
People with mental illnesses have been shown to make up approximately 16% of prison populations.
Steps are being made to remedy the growing number of police shootings. Phoenix Police Commander, Michael Kurtem has announced the formation of a seven person “crisis intervention squad” at diverting pick-ups of mentally ill people away from first responders in the department. Instead the team with deal with mental health situations with a palliative approach, prioritizing treatment over incarceration.
The Phoenix Police department is also taking steps to train its patrol officers in crisis intervention.