City Council Questions NYPD's Preparedness For Handling Mentally Ill
Dean Meminger
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The City Council held a hearing Thursday on whether the NYPD is equipped to handle the thousands of emotional disturbed person's calls it receives each year. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.
On November 12th last year, Kyle Coppin was shot and killed by police after his mother called 911 to say he was out of control. They say they thought he had a gun; it turned out to be a hairbrush.
Less than a week later, also in Brooklyn, police shot and killed David Kostovski, who they say had stabbed a man and threatened police officers with the broken bottle.
Thursday, the City Council's public safety and mental health committees held a hearing about the NYPD policy for handling EDPs, of which there were 87,000 calls of last year.
"When there is time to negotiate, take all the time necessary to ensure the safety of all concerned," said NYPD Chief Robert Giannelli. "Deadly physical force will be used only as a last resort to protect the life of the persons present."
However, council members say more can be done. They say police need updated computer and tracking systems when responding to calls where someone may be emotionally disturbed.
"They have no way of knowing the history of this person, if they have been violent in the past or non-violent," said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. "That is for two reasons. One is that police technology is not up to date."
The second reason, police say privacy laws make it hard to get medical records. Others believe police need to call mental health experts to the scene.
"They should be involved whenever possible," said Councilman Oliver Koppel. "We do have cases where the police may have acted improperly, where the police, because they don't understand the condition of the person that they are approaching, may have over reacted."
"We believe crisis intervention teams are the solution," said Lisa Ortega, an advocate for the mentally ill. "There has been resistance from the NYPD to implement anything other than the military style they have of circling and apprehending people."
During the hearing, the chief of patrol said everyone should understand that when officers respond to EDP 911 calls they are arrive on the scene not to treat or heal people, but to take them into custody and make sure the scene is safe.
Maria Ortiz says police were too aggressive when they came to help EMS workers with her mentally ill son.
"I am afraid that the police will come violently and hurt my son or kill him," she said.
The chief responded that police supervisors and specialized units are trained and extremely experienced in de-escalating a situation. He points to a hostage stand-off with an EDP last Friday in the Queensbridge Houses which ended peacefully and without anyone hurt.
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