Detroit – As Detroit police responded to a record number of runs involving mentally ill residents, Chief James White on Wednesday announced an overhaul of the department’s crisis response team and new tools that he says , would give officers more options when dealing with citizens in crisis.
The changes, some of which were reported by The Detroit News last week, include centralizing Crisis Response Team operations and equipping CIT officers with less-than-lethal weapons such as Bolawraps, which are hand-held devices that discharge a cord that wraps around subjects. arms or legs to hold them.
At a Huntington Place press conference, White said he would also introduce two centralized co-response units – one to each cover the east and west sides of the city – which will be staffed by dedicated full-time officers to mental health races. Currently, each precinct has at least one officer with crisis intervention training for races involving people with mental illnesses.
A “launch camera” that can be launched into homes during barricaded shooter situations, police drones and a “virtual reality headset” for training were also discussed on Wednesday. Prior to the press conference, police officials presented the tools to members of the city council, the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners and citizens.
White said the new tools still have to go through the procurement process. “Policies (overseeing the use of tools) should be approved by the Board of Police Commissioners, while City Council should approve purchases,” White said. “But we have dollars for it.”
While the new devices give officers more options, “it doesn’t guarantee that the results, which are already unpredictable, will end peacefully,” the chief said. “It just gives officers more tools for that purpose.”
White also displayed during Wednesday’s briefing new uniforms and vehicles that CIT officers will be handing out. The light gray tops and khaki pants CIT officers will wear are designed to appear less intimidating to those in crisis than normal police attire, while the new vehicles will feature green lights in addition to the traditional red and blue flashing lights. above most squad cars.
The two shifts of the co-response unit will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. Under the new system, White said precincts will retain some of those officers who work on mental health issues on a part-time basis and additional cops will be assigned to the two centralized teams as full-time positions.
Captain Tonya Leonard-Gilbert said there were now 18 CIT officers on the force, along with nine behavioral health specialists. “When a call comes in for a service, if it’s determined to be related to mental health, it will be sent to a behavioral health specialist that’s embedded there,” she said. “They will try to defuse, but if it is determined that a call should be sent, it will be sent to a co-crisis response team.”
White said his goal was 30 officers in the centralized CIT team. “But we have well over 100 officers who are trained in CIT right now, so you’ll have that extra layer of having officers in the compound who can be trained in CIT; they’ll be on a regular patrol car but they’ll may have some practice.
“This model is … two officers in a car whose only job is to do that job, and a behavioral health specialist as well,” White said.
The “projection cameras” will be equipped with audio capabilities, White said.
“A lot of times we find that a person in crisis wants to interact with just one person, but we can’t bring that person close enough,” White said. “We’ll be able to get their audio on camera, throw the camera close to the person in crisis, and let them communicate in real time.”
Drones would also be used during barricaded shooter situations, White said.
Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero called the new tools and rollout strategy “a step in the right direction.”
“I look forward to working with (DPD) to ensure that we assess the data, implement what we learn and continue to seek better solutions,” she said. “While DPD is not responsible for tackling mental illness, we need to ensure our city invests in the resources needed to address our mental health crisis.”
The changes come as Detroit police handle an unprecedented number of mental health crises. DPD officers were deployed to more than 17,000 mental health emergencies in 2022, White said.
In two recent cases, Detroit police officers fatally shot citizens who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. On November 10, 27-year-old Kiazia Miller was killed as she allegedly struggled with officers for control of a gun. Miller’s relatives had called police and reported that she was inside her home with her two young children, armed with a gun, a knife and a baseball bat. Three officers were suspended after the incident because White said they failed to properly take control of the situation.
On October 2, Porter Burks was killed after police said he ignored officers’ orders to drop a knife. His brother had called 911 to report that Burks, 22, had punctured his tires and was acting aggressively.
After each shooting, a $50 million wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of the families by Southfield attorney Geoffrey Fieger.
Wednesday’s announcement came a day after DPD officials deployed two other less-than-lethal weapons for distribution to supervisors across the department: devices that fire pepper balls and foam “impact cartridges.” All officers will also receive new body-worn cameras that have higher definition and more capabilities than current units.
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