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article imageOp-Ed: It’s not about the police, but how they are trained

By Bob Pinzler     Mar 13, 2014 in Crime
Fullerton - The jury in the Kelly Thomas case in delivered a verdict of not guilty. As you may recall, the central issue was the responsibility for the death of Thomas.
He was a mentally disturbed man, during an altercation with Fullerton, CA police officers when he was being questioned as a possible suspect following reports of a “homeless man” looking into parked cars and pulling on door handles in a bus depot.
Since all of the action was captured on surveillance video, the judgment came down to interpretation by the jury of the actions they were seeing. In their minds, the doubt was sufficient to determine the officers’ innocence.
In the typical career of a police officer, there will certainly be one…and more likely many…times when they will meet up with a person who is mentally ill. Many departments have people either on staff or on call who are brought in when these events occur. However, sometimes even in those jurisdictions, the first responders to a call are on their own.
In reality, the question of responsibility for the death of Thomas can be best ascribed to a general lack of training of people who have the power of life and death when it comes to those they meet up with who are mentally ill. Frankly, this is not solely the fault of the officers, who use the tools they are provided.
On occasion, situations that could call for deadly force occur. Police are trained to be observant and react accordingly. I’ve been in police simulators and have, to my great chagrin, seen trained officers “shoot” their own colleagues, or an innocent bystander, because of the nature of the situation. It is a set of mental gymnastics that most people would have trouble with.
Nevertheless, that is what training is about…observation and judgment. This is what being in law enforcement is about.
I’m not second-guessing the jury. They spent more time looking at this case than I did. However, no matter how one feels about the verdict, an innocent, mentally disturbed man is dead and his family is mourning.
No law enforcement officer I have come to know over the years of working with them seeks out this situation. But, they all know that it is out there not only waiting to destroy their careers, but also to haunt them for the rest of their days. It is up to the administration of the various departments and the leaders of the cities and counties that hire them to make sure that this doesn’t happen in their jurisdictions.
Mental health training should not only be mandatory, but sufficient resources should be available to provide assistance on those calls. This includes real time information about the status of weapons registered to that person or household. While certainly imperfect due to the nature of this database, the knowledge of a likelihood of a weapon being in the premises or on the person they are dealing with might change the way they approach them.
The death of a single innocent person is too much…not only for that person, but for those who inflict it upon them.
A makeshift memorial for Kelly Thomas  at the site where he was killed in 2011 after a beating by Fu...
A makeshift memorial for Kelly Thomas, at the site where he was killed in 2011 after a beating by Fullerton police officers, in Fullerton, California January 14, 2014
With permission by Reuters / Alex Gallardo
Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli
Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos and Cpl. Jay Cicinelli
Orange County District Attorney's Office
Kelly Thomas in 2002 (left) and after being brutally beaten by Fullerton  California police officers...
Kelly Thomas in 2002 (left) and after being brutally beaten by Fullerton, California police officers in July 2011.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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