Phoenix Reconsiders Approach of Police to Mental Health as Officer-Involved Shootings Soar

23July
2019

The number of officer-involved shootings of suspects soared in Phoenix last year. Now police are looking at reasons for the spike. The approach of the police department to mental health is being scrutinized.

The Phoenix Police Department has released an independent report on the large number of officer-involved shootings. The number of officer-involved shootings in 2018 was double that of 2017. It rose to among the highest in the country.

The Phoenix New Times reported the detailed report failed to come to a conclusion over the spike in officer-involved shootings.

Police seek to tackle large numbers of officer-involved shootings in Phoenix
The number of officer-involved shootings in Phoenix is soaring

Phoenix recorded 44 police shootings in 2018 — 23 of them fatal. The report identified a significant rise in shootings involving armed suspects and people assaulting cops with deadly weapons.

The report noted the number of assaults on an officer with a deadly weapon almost doubled in 2018, from 42 in 2017 to 87.

Dr. Justin Nix, one of the researchers who worked on the report, said the rise in assaults on officers was significant. It’s not clear if it fueled officer-involved shootings. Although Phoenix police could have responded to an increase in assaults on them with a deadly weapon, the total number of assaults on police officers declined from 991 in 2017 to 951 in 2018. The violent crime rate also slightly during that time period.

Nine key recommendations made by Police Chief Jeri Williams could impact how officers respond to incidents.

The most fundamental change would require the police department to record every time a police officer points a gun at someone. The National Police Foundation maintains police departments that implemented this change ended up with lower rates of police shootings.

The recommendations may result in changes to how Phoenix police deal with people who suffer from mental health issues.

The Phoenix New Times reported city Mayor Kate Gallego said the city will set up a task force focused on the police approach to mental health, as well as the key recommendations outlined in the report.

Williams supports more partnerships between officers and the mental health providers whose job it is to respond to people who face a mental health crisis.

A report on KJZZ noted how Detective Sabrina Taylor works for Phoenix Police as the Crisis Intervention Team training coordinator. Her team brings every stakeholder to the table — from police and behavioral health professionals to advocates, to address the problem.

Attorney Bernardo Garcia has represented mentally ill defendants for decades. You can contact him at (602) 340-1999.

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