Could Mentally Ill Woman’s Life Have Been Saved?

Michelle-CusseauxI was quoted in an Arizona Republic story this morning, written by D.S. Woodfill about Michelle Cusseaux, the fifty year old mentally ill woman who was shot and killed by Sgt. Percy Dupra of the Phoenix Police Department on August 14, 2014 after she allegedly charged at the officer with a hammer.

Arizona Republic: Phoenix chief asks for outside review of police shooting

Phoenix Police Chief Daniel V. Garcia asked the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to conduct an “independent review” of the shooting to determine if Sgt. Dupra did anything wrong.

I explained that the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office already does an independent review of all officer involved shootings in Maricopa County, so Chief Garcia was not asking for anything that was not already going to be done.

My experience with police and the mentally ill is that what happens is often determined by the demeanor of the individual officer.  Police officers who are able to quickly identify someone as mentally ill and who use a calm demeanor are often able to avoid the unnecessary use of force.  Additional training for police officers to help them identify and deal with the mentally ill could save lives.

Some police officers, though, have a very confrontational and aggressive approach which usually does not work well with mentally ill people.

Unfortunately, the police are often on the front lines of dealing with the mentally ill since we do not have a good system of publicly available mental health care in this country.  As a society, we seem to be more interested in paying for jails than in mental health care despite the fact that the criminal justice system is an ineffective and extremely costly way to provide mental health care.

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