Contrary to initial reports from the Albuquerque Police Department, no Crisis Intervention Team officers trained to de-escalate situations involving people with behavioral health issues were called to the scene of a Sandia foothills standoff that ended in the death of a camper last month at the hands of police.
Healthcare for the Homeless spokeswoman Anita Cordova told KUNM last week that she wondered why no officers specifically trained in crisis intervention had been summoned to the hours-long standoff with James Boyd. But just after the shooting Chief Gorden Eden said there had been a CIT officer there.
CIT Lieutenant Donovan Olvera told KUNM CIT’s are routinely called when there’s a standoff with a person with behavioral health issues.
“Most of the time they are called when there is a dispatch where the situation is known to involve someone dealing with mental illness, so they will normally attempt to dispatch a crisis intervention-certified officer,” Olvera said.
Now the Albuquerque Journal is reporting that the leader of a consortium on forensic intervention in Albuquerque says no specially trained CIT officers were called in to help before a group of uniformed officers fatally shot Boyd, and a video of the incident went viral, sparking protests and demands for change. The events have put Albuquerque in the spotlight throughout the country.
Michael Maestas is a psychotherapist at UNM Hospital. He’s worked on task forces aimed at improving the way law enforcement deals with the community.
“Crisis intervention techniques have been around quite awhile in literature, but it takes a leadership perspective, it takes someone that says, ‘We’re going to provide this training not once, like a shot in the arm, but it should be ongoing and it should be comprehensive in scope,’ and that it be pretty intensive.”
More than 60-percent of the 37 people shot by APD since 2010 were living with mental health issues. Because of funding cuts in recent years, fewer people with addiction and mental health issues are getting treatment, and more of them are having run-ins with police.
As former Albuquerque police chief Ray Schultz said in a 2012 report from a consortium of police chiefs around the country, “Inmates are released with three days worth of meds but often they don’t have money to get a refill and they end up cycling through the system again.”
Maestas said government must prioritize funding and first-responders’ training so people with mental illness are no longer forgotten.
“Anybody who is crying out for help or that needs help, we’re sophisticated enough in our society now to provide that help for them. (Q: and do we have an obligation in our society to do that?) Absolutely we’re obligated to do that. They are part of our citizenry and we have a responsibility and an obligation to provide those services that they need.”
Congress is taking up the issue of behavioral health services, with both the House and Senate last week approving a measure that would expand funding for outpatient treatment programs. And this week Mayor Berry told reporters he wants all field officers and cadets trained in crisis intervention. Currently just over a quarter of field officers undergo the training.