Thursday, November 11, 2010

Philly Police: The Beating of Bernard

Ronnie Polaneczky:

"'They screamed at him multiple times to get his hands behind his back, get on the ground,' recalls Landgren. 'The man cowered. He never spoke. I told them, 'Officer, he doesn't understand you! Please, he's mentally ill!' They kept screaming. It seemed to make him more agitated.

'One of the officers could only get one cuff on the man. He said, 'OK, that's it, you f---er,' and hit him hard with a billy club. The man fell and covered his face with his hands. Then all three officers were on him.

'He was curled in a ball. They pulled his hands from his face and maced him multiple times. They Tasered him over and over. He was like a cornered animal.'"

The police are silent about their view of things. Interestingly, the police report cites Bernard for "aggravated assault" on an officer ... even though nobody else saw such a thing.

Which takes me back to something I meant to write about a week ago. The Daily News ran a feature story about a crisis-intervention program that is training Philadelphia officers to distinguish between criminal behavior and mental illness that requires help -- the better not to end up Tasering or abusing somebody who isn't really in full control of their actions. Great idea! There's only one problem: Only 800 cops out of a force of 6,500 have received the training. And not nearly all of them will get it:

Ultimately, Healy said, 25 to 30 percent of patrol cops will receive the training.

There are no plans to make the training mandatory, Healy said, because police brass believe that the training is more effective when it's offered voluntarily.

I'm not sure what to make of this: Two-thirds of Philly police officers think it's ok to blow off training that can help them serve their community better? (One in 10 police encounters involve someone with mental illness.) Police brass are conceding that most of their force would rather use billy clubs and Tasers than deal in a nuanced way with a nuanced situation? It's good that the training is being offered to officers who want it; the fact that not all officers are getting it is troubling.

And even with the training, it's important to realize that encounters like Bernard's, above, will probably still happen from time-to-time. But maybe it doesn't have to happen as often as it does.

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