The NYPD needs a new approach in how it handles mentally ill and disturbed residents, one elected official said this week.
State Senator Eric Adams demanded that Police Commissioner Ray Kelly create a new crisis intervention unit to handle situations like the one that ended in the death of psychiatric patient Iman Morales – a tragedy that was compounded last week when one of the cops involved in his death took his own life at Floyd Bennett Field.
Morales died last week after cops shot him with a Taser gun as he stood naked on a security gate above a Tompkins Avenue storefront.
The shock caused Morales to lose his balance.
Witnesses said he toppled head first to the ground ten feet below. No protective padding had been placed on the ground to cushion his fall, officials said.
NYPD Lieutenant Michael Pigott ordered his subordinates to Taser Morales because he kept poking them with a florescent bulb not allowing them to get close enough to grab hold of him.
He was put on modified assignment because the order violated NYPD guidelines.
The heartbreaking story ended on an even sadder note when Pigott shot himself on Thursday. His body was found in Floyd Bennett Field.
Adams, however. said that both tragedies could have been avoided and the incident with Morales could have ended without any bloodshed if cops specially trained with handling disturbed men and women had responded to the scene.
A special team trained in handling emotionally disturbed people would benefit both the NYPD and the people they are tying to assist.
“Our model of policing these situations is not acceptable anymore,” he told reporters, adding that if the NYPD didn’t entertain his idea by the year’s end, he would put in legislation demanding that the police department make the necessary changes.
In published reports, an NYPD spokesperson said that the NYPD’s Emergency Services Unit “responds successfully to over 80,000 calls annually involving emotionally disturbed persons and are by far the most experienced of any law enforcement agency.”
“In virtually all instances, department training and guidelines are adhered to,” the spokesman said.
Standing with residents of Tompkins Avenue and members of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, the Grand Council of Guardians and The National Latino Officers Association, Adams, a former police captain, said that if the NYPD could not create a specialized team to handle emotionally disturbed residents – as police departments in Texas and California have already done – cops should at least place small video cameras on the tip of the Taser guns. The video cameras would give an accurate account of what was happening when it was fired and help officials determine if NYPD regulations had been followed, he said.
Morales’ death has also sparked criticism from members of the Civil Liberties Union.
“At a time when the NYPD is considering arming patrol officers with Tasers, this incident illustrates the dangers they pose and highlights the need for both clear policies and extensive training on the use of these potentially deadly weapons,” New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a statement.
“Clearly, firing a Taser at someone is a poor substitute for strong police negotiating skills and common sense,” she said.