No easy solution to ‘suicide by cop’ - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

No easy solution to ‘suicide by cop’

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Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 6:27 pm | Updated: 1:31 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The East Valley’s list of “suicide by cop” cases grew longer last week.

Brent Bradshaw, a disbarred Scottsdale lawyer, was found on the bank of the Arizona Canal with a shotgun under his chin, police said. But instead of shooting himself, he approached officers, refused to drop the gun and was fatally shot.

For all his brilliance as a law student and later a lawyer, Bradshaw had been disturbed for years.

That is often the case when police confront armed individuals. Many are suicidal. Some are mentally incapable of obeying police orders. Officers sometimes have no choice but to pull the trigger. But tragic outcomes are not inevitable, and it makes sense to give officers as much training as possible when it comes to dealing with armed, unbalanced individuals.

Police and some mental health advocates, however, are at odds over whether that training needs to be mandated. The Scottsdale-based Mental Health Association of Arizona believes a law is necessary. The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, known as AZ POST, does not. A bill to mandate such training failed last week in a House committee.

It’s not that the cops don’t want the training. They just don’t want the Legislature dictating how much training, and what kind, police departments should be giving their officers. While it should be noted that Arizona police officials are not unanimous on that point, it seems valid. Police chiefs in individual departments — not state lawmakers — are in the best position to decide where limited training dollars should be spent.

Having said that, it’s clear that training in this area has become increasingly necessary. A lot of mentally ill people are falling through the cracks, and confrontations with the police are a common result.

Which brings us to another point: The time to help these people is not when they have become so desperate they find themselves on the wrong end of an officer’s revolversidearm. The time to help them is long before that, though Arizona has a long record of short-changing its mentally ill.

Well-trained officers no doubt can defuse many of these situations, but even a degree in psychiatry would not prevent all such deaths. And if it truly comes down to a choice between the officer’s life or the suspect’s, the police cannot be faulted for doing what they must.

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