The Phoenix Police Department announced October 22 a series of new measures to improve police interactions with people with mental illness, in response to a wave of community outrage over the August 14 fatal shooting of Michelle Cusseaux.That day, Phoenix police officers attempted to deliver a court order for Cusseaux, 50, to transfer her to a mental health facility. Cusseaux allegedly threatened the officers with a hammer and Police Officer Percy Dupra fatally shot her.
Since the incident, all patrol officers have undergone a two-hour training session on emergency mental-health pickup orders, according to the Phoenix New Times.
Going forward, the Police Department aims to increase the use of mental health professionals and decrease the use of officers when responding to calls involving people with mental illness, according to Arizona Republic.
As part of this effort, it will increase the use of mobile crisis teams, which consist of behavioral health specialists trained to respond to such emergencies. Specially trained sergeants must also be at the scene, which was not previously Department policy.
“Our goal is to use police as a last resort,” said Justin Chase, CEO of the Crisis Response Network, at the news conference, as reported by the Phoenix New Times. “Our first place of action should be dedicated to the mental-health and behavioral-health experts in our community, and coordinating with them.”
The Police Department will create a permanent eight-member Mental Health Advisory Board, tasked with overseeing new policies and procedures.
“This is not a task force, this is not a temporary board,” Mayor Greg Stanton said at the news conference, according to the Phoenix New Times. “This is a board that’s going to be made up of the top mental-health professionals in our community, providing constant guidance to the police department.”
The investigations into Cusseaux’s death are ongoing. After Cusseaux’s shooting, the Phoenix Police Department announced that it would review the incident, with the assistance of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
Activists argued that these initial steps would not result in an independent investigation, prompting a rally on August 22, where protesters marched with Cusseaux’s body in a casket outside Phoenix City Hall.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety is now undergoing a separate investigation.