Why Was A Mentally Distressed Man Shot By Police?

Photo courtesy of portalsmag.com

Photo courtesy of portalsmag.com

“When you call police for medical attention, you shouldn’t be killed by the same people there to give you assistance.”

This was said by Mayor Bartlett, the attorney for the family of a mentally distressed man who was shot to death by police in New Rochelle, NY (abclocal.go.com).

The article by abclocal.go.com (published Oct. 22) says about the incident, which took place five months ago:

This is the second time in the last two years that a 911 call to police in Westchester County ended with a mentally distressed man being shot dead inside his home by an officer.

Cruz’s wife, daughter and attorneys are now suing New Rochelle Police for $21 million for having “failed to train or supervise its officers in properly responding to incidents involving emotionally disturbed persons.”

The lawsuit also calls for a court order requiring New Rochelle to adopt the Crisis Intervention Team Model. Developed in Memphis, it’s recognized as the “gold standard” in police response to mental health crisis.

In Westchester County, cutbacks eliminated a 24-7 Crisis Intervention Unit that could’ve come to help Mrs. Cruz’s husband, instead of a police officer that may not have known enough about mental illness to know what to do.

The point of this post, though, is not to speak ill of the New Rochelle police force. Obviously, their crisis system needs to be updated in order to prevent these things from happening, and hopefully that will be done in response to the lawsuit. The problem that I’d like to address here is the use of deadly force in a case where it may not have been necessary. The article states that the man was armed only with a knife when police approached him. So why was he shot!? Was that necessary, even if the officer felt threatened? Couldn’t the officer have found another way to subdue him?

And the biggest question is this: Without a gun, would the outcome of this incident been different?