The biggest question hanging over the Mesa Police Department right now is whether officers could have avoided killing two knife-wielding people in separate incidents in recent days without risking harm to themselves.
Ongoing investigations overseen by County Attorney Richard Romley should help answer that question in each case — but ultimately we may never have conclusive yes-or-no answers.
Dealing with deranged, distraught individuals who may also be impaired by alcohol or drugs is one of the most dangerous aspects of police work. No one sitting in the comfort of their easy chair should underestimate that danger, which claims the lives of police officers in communities around the country on a regular basis.
Public pressure should never be allowed to bend police policies so as to compromise officers' safety. It must remain a given that in some highly charged situations officers must make decisions to use deadly force — and that that may result in someone dying.
But law enforcement professionals themselves understand that there is no such thing as enough training — or a perfect policy. Even veteran officers spend time at the shooting range perfecting not only their aim but their judgment in simulated confrontational situations.
This brings us to a proposal by the Mental Health Advocates Coalition of Arizona that the Mesa Police Department create a Crisis Intervention Team similar to those in other departments, including Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson. The concept, which has been around for about 15 years, includes intensive training of a corps of officers within a department in non-lethal techniques for handling deranged or distraught individuals. The object is to defuse confrontational situations and, when appropriate, to get suspects into treatment rather than simply carting them off to jail — or the morgue.
Mesa police officials say officers' training includes a four-hour seminar on the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. That is all well and good, but the CIT training is far more extensive — about 40 hours — and, according to the Mental Health Advocates Coalition, more effective in defusing potentially deadly confrontations.
The CIT concept sounds promising enough to warrant further study not only by Mesa but our other East Valley cities as well. If lives can be saved without compromising police officers' safety, it's an approach that ought to be adopted universally.