By State Senator Kevin Parker
Two recent shootings involving police officers – one of an emotionally disturbed man in the Flatbush section of my district, and the other of a police officer on tour in Cypress Hills, have once again given rise to the national debate about policing and the training of our law enforcement officers as both incidents involved an emotionally disturbed person.
In the former case, 32-year-old Dwayne Jeune was shot dead by police after a call for help from his mother. The latter incident involved NYPD officer Hart Nguyen who was shot in the arm and chest when he responded to a call about a non-violent emotionally disturbed man in Cypress Hill. Both are extremely unfortunate incidents that could have had different outcomes if my proposed new law calling for the creation of Crisis Intervention Teams had not been languishing in the State Senate since I introduced it four years ago.
I put forth the Crisis Intervention Team Act of 2014 (CIT) as a compassionate and thoughtful response intended to save lives and bridge the chasm between those in emotional crisis, and those charged with ensuring public safety. The specialized training officers will receive through CITs enable them to respond to calls regarding emotionally disturbed persons (EDP) in a manner that increases the safety of the person in crisis, as well as the police officer and other parties that may be involved.
In accordance with NYC policy, incidents where someone – whether in their home or on the street, has reason to engage with an emotionally or mentally disturbed person in distress, they are directed to call 911 where the NYPD are the first responders for such situations. The problem with this is that the police respond in a manner consistent with their “tough on crime” training – which in itself is a threat to our public safety. What maintains is that instead of an EDP getting the badly needed medical help, the story ends with them being hurt, injured, or as we have recently seen, killed.
According to a report by the Department of Investigation, the NYPD responds to 400 calls a day – 150,000 a year, regarding people in mental/emotional crisis. As of December 2016, only about 13 percent of the NYPD – or 4,700 officers – had received any of the crisis training that the City of New York has implemented through policy addendums. Furthermore, The NYPD has yet to implement a dispatch system to ensure officers who have already received the crisis training are, in fact, the ones responding to calls involving EDPs. Clearly, the measures implemented by City Hall are inadequate – further strengthening the argument for enacting the Crisis Intervention Teams Act into law.
In addition to the detailed and robust training component CITs boast, police officers will have access to trained mental health professionals to help defuse crises. These experts can more adequately provide an appropriate solution that does not require the use of force. CIT is a vital piece of legislation if we are to circumvent an escalation of reported incidents of people who are not criminals, but are sick and in crisis.
The creation of Crisis Intervention Teams is an urgent necessity for NYC. I urge my colleagues in government to support this legislation – before the start of the next legislative session, so that we can create a safer environment today for all New Yorkers. Moreover, I am confident that with the passage of this legislation, our law enforcement officers will be empowered to respond to mental health incidents with compassion as opposed to confrontation.