Mon, Apr

Disturbing Uptick: LAPD Shooting the Mentally Ill


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-A 300-page analysis of shootings by Los Angeles police released by LAPD officials Tuesday concluded that over a third of those shot had documented signs of mental illness. LAPD’s Chief Charlie Beck states the report will serve as a framework for the Police Commission to discuss how the police use force. 

In 2015, encounters where LA police used forced accounted for about 2,000 of the 1.5 million contacts police made that year. Of the 38 shootings by police last year, 14 were documented as mentally ill and of the 1,900 incidences that involved police use of Tasers, bean-bag guns, and other devices, about a quarter involved mentally ill people. 

The frequency of in-custody deaths also tripled, from 4 in 2014 to 12 last year. About half of these incidents involved someone deemed to be under the influence of drugs. 

One year ago, an officer fatally shot Charly “Africa” Keunang, a homeless man, on Skid row, when Keunang grabbed the rookie officer’s holstered gun. Keunang’s record had included time in a prison psychiatric hospital. Activists attended Tuesday’s commission meeting to protest that incident, along with another fatal shooting of a homeless man by an officer near Venice boardwalk. 

The nexus of law enforcement, prison, and mental illness is a serious issue, not only in Southern California but throughout the U.S. The number of mentally ill inmates in prisons is growing and many others are embroiled in the court system.

At the Federal level, authorities are turning up the heat on LA County Supervisors to improve the situation for inmates who are mentally ill; and LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey is investigating how to divert the mentally ill from the criminal justice system. 

Part of the solution involves training officers to manage situations with suspects who may be mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as well as being homeless. LAPD is already making some headway, having rolled out de-escalation training last year. Tasers are now required for all officers and bean-bag shotguns will be kept in the front of patrol cars rather than in the trunk. 

Assistant Chief Michel Moore shares, “At the end of the day, the instances in which we use force … is extremely rare. But at the same time, each incident is one too many if it can be avoided.” 

Continued efforts in training and in the way we handle the mentally ill in the justice system should help. 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles-based writer and writes for CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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