A case in Burnsville, Minnesota reinforces the contention that police departments need to integrate officers with specialized mental health training into their departments. Late last month dispatch received a call stating a man threatening suicide pointed a gun at police and then died from a gunshot wound during a confrontation with Burnsville police.
In a statement, the police said, “A Burnsville officer fired shots, and the individual is deceased,” Officers were told about an hour earlier that the man “had threatened suicide” and later left the building with a gun.
After officers were advised of the call, with the assistance of a State Patrol Helicopter using heat sensors, the alleged caller was tracked fleeing into a nearby wooded area. Once confronted the man purportedly pointed a gun at the police and he was shot dead. Officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting,
The incident was the second fatal shooting involving a Burnsville officer this year. On March 17, officers shot and killed 38-year-old Map Kong after he allegedly brandished a knife when police confronted him in a McDonald’s parking lot, according to the Minneapolis Tribune.
OUR FREE OPINION
The Minneapolis Tribune article notes that “police forces across the country are re-evaluating their practices regarding encounters with people with mental health difficulties. In Minneapolis, officials recently announced a pilot program that would have police officers be paired with mental health specialists on emergency calls involving such problems.”
We applaud the continuing introduction of specially trained mental health personnel into the ranks of police departments. The Madison Police Department has been working on this issue for years. The Minneapolis Police department is also making progress on this matter. Much more work is needed.
A posting on the Madison Police Department’s website notes that in 2015 the department added five full-time officers to serve better individuals living with a mental illness. Mental Health Officers address both district-specific and citywide systems issues related to mental health.
We recognize that police departments may experience some financial drainage owing to the hands-on approach often required in such individual street encounters (In Madison, for example, it is not uncommon to tie up two police officers to transport a challenged person to a mental health facility, sometimes over a hundred miles away). The solution is more state funding.