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by Peter Moskos

October 21, 2016

"Number Two" at the range

Two days ago in the Bronx, an NYPD sergeant shot and killed Deborah Danner, a 66-year-old with schizophrenia armed with a baseball bat. Deborah Danner's death is a tragedy. It is a failure of the system. But almost immediately, the officer who shot was stripped of his badge and gun and denounced by the mayor and police commissioner. DeBlasio -- who according to the Times, "struggled to answer basic questions about the shooting" -- felt he knew enough to throw the cop under the bus:
The shooting of Deborah Danner was tragic, and it is unacceptable. It should never have happened. It is quite clear our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation. And it's very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here.
Really? At NYPD target practice, there's a simple shoot/don't-shoot scenario. (This is something we did not have in Baltimore, which might help explain the NYPD's overall extremely low rate of using lethal force.)

The guy with a bat is known as "Number Two." When you hear, "Number Two," you're supposed to see the guy with a bat and shoot Mr. Number Two. (Also Three and Four, but not Numbers One or Five.)

I am not saying this was a good shooting. I am saying that if we don't want cops to shoot people with baseball bats, why do we train cops to do just that?

The mayor continued:
There was certainly a protocol that called for deferring to the Emergency Service Unit (ESU). That was not followed. There was obviously the option of using a taser. That was not employed. We will fully investigate this situation and we will cooperate fully with any prosecutorial agencies. We need to know why this officer did follow his training and did not follow those protocols.
[The New York State attorney general said he would not investigate the shooting.]

Protocol, so I hear, does say that officers confronted with an emotionally disturbed armed person (apparently initially naked and armed with scissors) should back off, close the door, and call for ESU and wait.

I'm not convinced the department really wants this to happen all the time. This protocol, let's call it Plan B, would tie up a few officers for a few hours in what would then be a barricade situation. It would also draw on the military-like resources of ESU.

Plan A is for two cops to simply handle the inncident quickly and professionally, and get back in service to handle the next call. When violating "protocol" is routine, even encouraged, it's not fair to only crack the whip when things go bad.

But one thing about these events is they can change police culture quite quickly. ESU is now going to have a lot more work, for better or for worse. But wouldn't be ironic if ESU responded to every call, especially in light of demands to de-militarize the police? And then what happens when ESU kills somebody? Then we blame ESU?

Then who do we call? The really issue is that police shouldn't be responding to this type of call at all.

Here's Alex Vitale (whom I'm actually agreeing with!) in the Gotham Gazette:
The fact that police had to even be dispatched in the first place is a sign that something went wrong.

Health officials knew about this woman's condition.... Why was she returned to her apartment without adequate ongoing supervision or care?
Yet thousands of profoundly disabled people continue to roam the streets and subways or idle away at home with little or no support, leaving police to deal with the crises that inevitably result.
The mayor was wrong when he said that current training is adequate and this was just the mistake of a single officer. Ultimately, police are the wrong people to be responding to a person experiencing a mental health crisis.


Jack Catchem said...

Our "mental health system" is in shambles. Unable to lock anyone up, we in California rely upon cops and emergency rooms placing people on 72 hour (maximum) mental health holds. Then right back out the front door. Eventually the mentally disturbed respond inappropriately to police presence and this occurs.

You can only pass the buck so often until payment finally comes due. I weep for the mental pain and anguish this officer has to deal with so our society can rest easy at night knowing it was "his fault."

aNanyMouse said...

"And then what happens when ESU kills somebody? Then we blame ESU?"
Why not? They've gotten more training than us on these messes.
Better that than us popping folks, rather than calling ESU.

But yeah, they should be sent first, and only call us if they're outgunned.
Where the hell have the brass' heads been on this?

Hidden Dominion said...

Absolutely loved this post. Especially the "If we don't want police to shoot people with bats, why do we train them with this picture of a person holding a bat?".

I feel bad for the officer that had to deal with getting thrown under the buss by the brass. Politicians and this gerrymandering is absolute lunacy. If you don't mind, I'm going to link to this post on my website (www.hiddendominion.com), to further expand on it!