He had a mental illness and was armed. The police shot him in 28 seconds

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NEW YORK – A Bronx father’s desperate plea for help whose adult son struggles with his mental health ended when officers shot his son within 28 seconds of arriving, saying he had brandished a knife.

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The son, Raúl de la Cruz, 42, was unconscious for days after being shot on Sunday morning.

File:Emergency personnel near the scene where a police officer was killed in the Bronx section of New York,-(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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File:Emergency personnel near the scene where a police officer was killed in the Bronx section of New York,-(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

He was awake Thursday, according to his family, and talked a little.

But as he struggles to recover in a police-guarded room at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx, his family wonders why a phone call seek medical assistanceIt ended up with de la Cruz in critical condition, with six shots to the abdomen, right leg and chest, according to his sister, Maisset de la Cruz.

The shooting is being investigated by the police department’s Force Investigation Division, the department said in an email.

De la Cruz’s meeting with the police once again focused attention on how the city responds to emotionally troubled New Yorkers.

Activists and some lawmakers say the police shouldn’t be the first to arrive when someone is struggling with a mental health crisis, because their presence, with their uniforms, guns and sirens, can aggravate already unstable situations.

Last year, police responded to around 171,000 calls about ‘EDP’ –emotionally disturbed people— citywide, up from 158,000 calls in 2021, according to department data.

The practice of using the police to respond to such cases has come under national scrutiny, with some states expanding programs that match police officers in unmarked cars without sirens with mental health counselors.

But in New York, agents are still often the first to arrive.

The chain of events in the Bronx on Sunday began when Raúl de la Cruz’s father, Santo de la Cruz, called 311 to ask for medical assistance for his son – who is homeless and was showering at home that morning – after they had argued, as first reported by Gothamist.

Maisset de la Cruz said his father had approached his son about a disturbing video the son had posted on Facebook of him yelling at police officers at a subway station.

“We knew he had a knife,” she said.

“He didn’t have the knife out. But we knew that, so we were concerned about him and the video and the knife.”

Santo de la Cruz intentionally called 311 instead of 911 “because he didn’t want anything bad to happen,” he told Gothamist.

However, since 311 is not an emergency number, where calls are routed to agencies based on the circumstances, unstable situations are referred to the police.

“Once it’s clear that a client is describing a dangerous situation, whether it’s a mental health call or another condition, such as a damaged tree that is creating a dangerous situation, we move to 911,” he said. Bill Reda, a spokesman for 311. .

Just over 20 minutes after Santo de la Cruz initiated the call, officers arrived outside his apartment building.

When his son saw police at the entrance to the building, he became “jittery,” John Chell, the police department’s patrol chief, said at a news conference.

He took out a kitchen knife and did not comply orders to release him, Chell said.

In his call, Santo de la Cruz “clarified” that his son had a dangerous weapon and “asked the operator to dial 911,” said Jonah Allon, spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams.

For these reasons, the call was conveniently transferred to 911, he said.

The family insists Santo de la Cruz only called 311 to get medical help for his son, not because he feared he was dangerous.

Sunday’s episode is the latest where emotionally troubled New Yorkers have encountered the use of the police force.

In 2019, police shot and killed a Bronx fitness instructor who was holding a kitchen knife in his apartment.

Minutes earlier, firefighters had helped the man, Kawaski Trawick, open the door and reenter while reportedly carrying a bread knife and long stick.

In Brooklyn in 2018, officers shot and killed Saheed Vassell, a man known to be mentally ill, saying they believed he had pulled a gun on them.

The object in his hands turned out to be a metal tube with a knob

Police shouldn’t be the first to respond to mental health calls because they aren’t trained to debunk them, said Jumaane Williams, the city’s public defender.

The presence of a knife or other weapon doesn’t always mean a situation is dangerous and can’t be defused, he said.

“The NYPD has a specific role,” he said.

“It’s hard to unveil that role at a time when they have to make a concrete decision.”

Across mayors’ administrations, “there seems to be a dedication to policing that’s part of the first response, and that I think is a problem,” Williams said.

The police department said in a statement that officers receive “significant training” on how to treat people with mental illnesses.

In fact, one of the officers who treated de la Cruz had received training in the department’s crisis intervention team program, and both had received training in caring for people in crisis and voluntary and involuntary relocations, according to the statement. .

George Alvarez, a member of the New York State Assembly, in whose district the building of Raúl de la Cruz’s father is located, said that despite receiving training, the responding officers used force in a few seconds.

“It’s clear they failed last Sunday,” he said.

Another point of contention for the de la Cruz family is that the agents gave them orders in English.

As a native Spanish speaker, she doesn’t understand English well, they said.

“In my district, Spanish is spoken very, very much,” Álvarez said, adding that police units receiving crisis intervention training should make a special effort to communicate with people in their native language.

The police department did not respond to questions about whether the officers who took the call spoke Spanish.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents police officers, said no other agency in the city is ready to handle the volume of mental health crisis calls the police department receives on its agenda.

“We still haven’t heard of a viable alternative to situations like this, where an armed individual attacks those who are trying to help him, seconds after arriving on the scene,” he said, adding that officers “don’t want to be in these situations, but we don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Adams announced in November an initiative to get more people off the streets and into hospitals if their mental illness made them a danger to themselves, even if they didn’t want to go.

The scheme, which could include the use of the police, followed a string of high-profile crimes involving people in crisis.

But some mental health, homeless and police experts are skeptical of it and of the desirability of police involvement.

In 2021, the city launched a pilot program called the Behavioral Health Emergency Assistance Response Division, or B-Heard.

The initiative, which dispatches teams of mental health professionals to certain emergencies, operates seven days a week and 16 hours a day in 25 police stations, but not where De la Cruz’s father lives.

According to the city, B-Heard teams do not respond to calls that are abusive or where someone could harm themselves.

These calls continue to be answered by the police and emergency services. In the fiscal year ending last June, nearly 80 percent of mental health calls in program areas were directed to emergency services, according to city data.

the program is “deeply flawedand “it continues New York City’s long history of criminalizing mental health,” said Marinda van Dalen, senior attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, who represents the de la Cruz family.

Activists said calls about people in danger should first be directed to units trained to reduce mental health crises.

“Be kind; treat me like a person,” said Christina Sparrock, a mental health advocate and crisis intervention specialist, who said she herself lives with bipolar disorder and PTSD.

“Mental illness is not a crime.”

Meanwhile, activists have suggested that people in distress dial 988, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.

As de la Cruz awaited further operations, her family members said they were wracked with guilt for calling for help.

“We just worried about him, because we didn’t want him to hurt anyone,” said Maisset de la Cruz.

“We tried to prevent, but look what we got.”

c.2023 The New York Times Society

Source: Clarin

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