DOJ: APD lacks training on mental illness

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – The Albuquerque Police Department has a clear lack of appropriate training with individuals with mental illness, according to the Department of Justice investigative report released Thursday.

The DOJ findings, the result of a year and half investigation into APD’s culture, concluded that APD had a pattern and practice of excessive force – including deadly force.

The report said a “significant amount of the force” they reviewed was used against people with mental illness and in distress.

“APD’s policies, training, and supervision are insufficient to ensure that officers encountering people with mental illness or in distress do so in a manner that respects their rights and is safe for all involved,” the DOJ says a findings letter addressed to Mayor R.J. Berry.

The report says there were many incidents where officers used force in situations that started out as “welfare checks” – when someone has called 911 because someone is in crisis – not because they’ve committed a crime.

“In the use-of-force reports we reviewed, far too many encounters that began as welfare checks ended in violence, and far too often the officers’ use of force was unreasonable,” the report said.

The findings specifically highlight several instances when Tasers were deployed against people in crisis or who had a diminished mental capacity and posed little threat to officers.

Under-Use of Crisis Intervention Team

In one of the few positive findings of the Department, the feds highlight the training of APD’s Crisis Intervention Team, a unit specially trained to assist the mentally ill during crisis.

“We are encouraged by the innovations and passions that many on the Team have brought to the department,” the letter says. “In many ways, the Team provides a template for the department as it considers how to remedy its pattern of unreasonable uses of force.”

The report goes on to say if CIT officers were used in more incidents, the number of use-of-force encounters could significantly decrease. The rest of the Department, however, did not seem to understand their function or rely on them in situations for which they were specially trained.

In many use-of-force incidents, officers made “no attempt to contact the Team or patrol the officers in their area who had certified by the Team” and that “far too many of these encounters had a violent outcome.”

The report recommends studying how many more CIT officers are needed to make sure one is always available in any part of the city when someone is in a mental health crisis.

It says beefing up CIT staff is especially important since the team operates “in a larger mental health system with limited resources and options.”

Going Forward

The report recommends implementing new policies and procedures for responding to the mentally ill and that all officers go through crisis intervention training.

The New Mexico branch of the National Alliance with Mental Illness says they’re willing to work with officers during training. It also said the number of encounters police had with the mentally ill is indicative of a broader problem.

“We have forced the police into the role of being a mental health case worker due to the lack of early intervention, wrap around services, supportive housing and employment,” said Cindy Kurey, a board member with NAMI. “We as a society need to get this right and pretty quickly. The cost to society of this is lives and bigger dollars due to lawsuits.”

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