Measure would mandate training to prevent ‘suicide by cop’
Miciah Lee was a Mother’s Day baby. He would have turned 20 on Wednesday.
Instead of celebrating, Lee’s mother, Susan Klopp, spent Monday afternoon telling Nevada legislators about the night last year when she called police. Klopp says she told the dispatcher her then-18-year-old mentally ill son wanted to commit suicide.
Klopp says Sparks police located her son and chased his car until it became disabled on a median. The sobbing mother, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Murdered’ above a photo of her son, told legislators Monday how her son was fatally shot by police within seconds of their arrival on the scene.
“They took no effort to save his life,” Klopp testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “They behaved as if he was a terrorist about to throw a bomb on a schoolyard full of children. They ran to him. They opened the door. They threw a K9 dog on my son and they shot him in less than ten seconds.”
Klopp says her son was a threat to no one but himself. She recited a litany of measures she says police should have taken to reduce her son’s anxiety, and “achieve a peaceful and safe surrender.”
Instead, she says, they stomped their feet and yelled and cursed at her son.
Assembly Bill 268, sponsored by Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner, a Republican, would require that police use de-escalation crisis intervention and other alternatives to force, when feasible.
It would require law enforcement to send an officer trained in crisis intervention and alternatives to force to assist a person who has made suicidal statements.
The measure would prohibit police from using deadly force when a person is a danger only to himself, as is often the case in instances of so-called ‘suicide by cop’.
The Washoe County District Attorney determined the shooting was justified.
“There must have been a different approach,” Krasner said of officers who knew they were “dealing with someone who was mentally disturbed and suicidal.”
“By putting the de-escalation policies into action, we can prevent something like this from ever happening again,” she testified.
“This is powerful training — a different kind of force,” Reno Sparks NAACP president Stephanie McCurry told lawmakers. She said proper training would allow law enforcement to connect individuals to treatment and extended care.
“This training enables officers to interact competently and professionally with those driven by suicide ideation or who in the end attempt suicide whether by cop or otherwise,” she testified.
“The intention of AB 268 is to avoid loss of life,” McCurry said. “In a profession where the fallout can often not be remedied or altered, passage of AB 268 will demonstrate the concern that the state of Nevada has for the mentally ill, for their families, and among these, the officers themselves.”
“Don’t we have a policy on this already that says we don’t use deadly force if there’s no risk?” asked Sen. Keith Pickard.
“This takes language that is already in place and being used and codifies it and puts it into law,” Krasner said, noting the policy is in place at Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and at the Washoe County Sheriff’s office.
Chuck Callaway, lobbyist for LVMPD, and Troyce Krumme of the Las Vegas Police Supervisors Association, testified in support of the measure.
But Eric Spratley of the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association opposed the bill “due to the mischaracterization of our excellent law enforcement officers.”
Spratley said the association opposed the “Monday morning quarterbacking language” which places others in the position of “deciding the imminent threat of the officer in that moment.”
“Law enforcement members spend the rest of their lives playing the ‘shoulda game,’” he said. “Legislating policy like this can place Nevada law enforcement officers in an inappropriate response and that can place others in harm’s way.”
A study from the Treatment Advocacy Center says individuals with mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by police.
“Numbering fewer than 1 in 50 U.S. adults, individuals with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least 1 in 4 and as many as half of all fatal police shootings,” the 2015 report says.
“An analysis of officer-involved shootings in Las Vegas for the Office of Community Oriented Police Services of the U.S. Department of Justice found that 54% of fatal shootings involved ‘mentally impaired’ individuals,” according to the report.
“Police officers should not be responding to people in mental health crisis,” testified Nathaniel Phillipps, a fellow with the Healing Justice Program of the American Friends Service Committee. “At the very least, we should be mandating officers have very clear guidelines for how to interact with all people.”
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