Can mental health training reduce use of force by police?

Colorado Springs law enforcement trains officers in mental health crisis to better respond to 911-calls – your weekly justice news

By LJ Dawson
By LJ Dawson

Founder of The Des and freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C.

This week I wrote about law enforcement participating in a week-long training to give officers better tools to deal with citizens in mental health crisis for the Colorado Springs Indy.

This type of training is a sort of middle road between defund the police and keeping things as they are. It acknowledges the reality that police respond to the majority of mental health crisis without the training of a mental health professional.

To read about the training click the link. But to cut to the chase. There is no proof that this training actually lowers the rate of DEADLY use of force on people with severe mental health issues who law enforcement respond to.

The officers, if not reluctant at first, feel more prepared by the end and research shows that their outlook improves. It is difficult to find time for officers and requires more funding than just the non-traditional police training. Though this training seems like a win-win, advocates, who believe police will never be the answer, say it’s not enough.

The head of this training noted that even if this assists officers in better dealing with people, the officers still need more resources to send individuals to at the end of a call.

Last year, I covered efforts in Denver to develop a non-police response to mental health 911-calls. The mother who I talked with said that police lights and uniformed officers would always trigger her son, who like many people with severe mental health issues, had numerous negative and traumatic encounters with law enforcement. She believed only a response without law enforcement would protect her son in crisis and get him safely to the care he needed. Read about the training.


Protests: One dead after protests in Denver turned violent. The alleged shooter was a security guard, but right wing twitter exploded with accusations that he was ANTIFA. Denver Post

Analysis: How do we address people incarcerated for violent crimes in the context of COVID-19 and releases? “If we understand that COVID-19 has turned nearly any sentence into a potential death sentence, then we are faced with a crisis of both arbitrary and excessive punishment—a situation in which people are being subject to a consequence that exceeds what any court envisioned when it imposed sentence.” Common Justice

Keep going: Vermont’s interim corrections commissioner extends the private prison contract in Mississippi where inmates face record levels of violence and COVID-19 cases. VTDigger

Commentary: Trump has appointed a quarter of active federal appellate judges who consistently vote down civil rights lawsuits that try to find release for inmates in the face of COVID-19. The Appeal

Changing narrative: The way police reported a shooting inconsistently fueled misinformation and white vigilantes in rural Pennsylvania The Philadelphia Inquirer

Applying principal: She was sexually assaulted but knew the legal system would likely revictimize her and pick up the wrong guy. Did she decided to press charges? The Atlantic

‘Water smells like feces:’ Georgia women’s prison is ravaged by COVID-19 in a rural county. AJC

History lesson: ‘Law and Order’ continues to be thrown around by Trump and Pence. The actual history behind it stretches back to the ‘60s and efforts to reach suburban voters. The Marshall Project

Not mandatory: Half of states fail to require mask use by correctional staff a survey of 20 states found. Prison Policy Initiative

Elections: A prosecutor race in L.A. has been upended by a summer of racial justice protests. Once a sure winner, the incumbent is now facing a opponent who is gaining support nationwide. The Appeal

Long read: Trained to inflict violence, what happens when use of force comes from a police dog? Read their main findings below. The Marshall Project

  • Though our data shows dog bites in nearly every state, some cities use biting dogs far more often than others. Police in Chicago almost never deploy dogs for arrests and had only one incident from 2017 to 2019. Washington had five. Seattle had 23. New York City, where policy limits their use mostly to felony cases, reported 25. By contrast, Indianapolis had more than 220 bites, and Los Angeles reported more than 200 bites or dog-related injuries, while Phoenix had 169. The Sheriff’s Department in Jacksonville, Florida, had 160 bites in this period.

  • Police dog bites can be more like shark attacks than nips from a family pet, according to experts and medical researchersA dog chewed on an Indiana man’s neck for 30 seconds, puncturing his trachea and slicing his carotid artery. A dog ripped off an Arizona man’s face. A police dog in California took off a man’s testicle. Dog bites cause more hospital visits than any other use of force by police, according to a 2008 academic analysis of 30 departments.

  • Many people bitten were unarmed, accused of non-violent crimes or weren’t suspects at all. Court records show cases often start as minor incidents—a problem with a license plate, a claim of public urinationa man looking for a lost cat. Although some departments, like SeattleOakland, California, and St. Paul, Minnesota, now have strict criteria about when dogs can bite, many continue to give officers wide discretion.

  • Some dogs won’t stop biting and must be pulled off by a handler, worsening injuries. Although training experts said dogs should release a person after a verbal command, we found dozens of cases where handlers had to yank dogs off, hit them on the head, choke them or use shock collars.

  • Men are the most common targets of police dog bites—and studies suggest that in some places, victims have been disproportionately Black. Investigations into the police department in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have both found that dogs bit non-White people almost exclusively. Police dog bites sent roughly 3,600 Americans to emergency rooms every year from 2005 to 2013, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine; almost all were male, and Black men were overrepresented.

  • For many bite victims, there’s little accountability or compensation. Federal civil rights laws don’t typically cover innocent bystanders. In many parts of the country, criminal suspects can’t bring federal claims if they plead guilty or are convicted of a crime related to the biting incident. And even when victims can bring cases, lawyers say they struggle because jurors tend to love police dogs—something they call the Lassie effect.

Educate yourself: Legally, until convicted, people in jail are allowed to vote, but the reality of incarceration disenfranchises thousands on election day. This report reviews all states barriers to voting. Prison Policy Initiative


Our Latest

More Voices of Justice To Come

Failings of youth incarceration

The Sentencing Project held a webinar to discuss the problems of youth incarceration In the face of increased pretrial detention in The District of Columbia,


A new investigation reveals gun seizures under Bowser’s police department broke the law

Journalists Alex Coma and Mitch Ryals published an investigative story uncovering a criminal investigation of 19 D.C. police officers for misconduct while serving in a crime suppression unit. Originally an internal MPD inquiry, the investigation has since been upgraded to a criminal inquiry, with allegations including taking firearms without making arrests and filing false reports.

House of pain

House of Pain: an introduction

My name is Bernard Jemison and I will briefly explain my story. I’ve been incarcerated since May 13, 1998, over 25 years now for felony murder that should have been self-defense. I was sentenced to serve life with the possibility of parole in the Alabama department of corrections.

More Voices of Justice To Come
Website | + posts

Founder of The Des and freelance criminal justice reporter based in Washington, D.C.