Phoenix police shooting highlights mental health issues

PHOENIX - The death of a mentally ill woman by Phoenix police has sparked protests, but the discussion is now turning to ways to prevent future shootings.

Michelle Cusseaux, 50, called a mental health facility and threatened to shoot workers in the face, according to police.

When officers arrived to assist, Cusseaux reportedly confronted an officer with a hammer, prompting the officer to open fire.

"It was so terribly tragic that we had to have this incident recently because we were almost there," said Jim Nunn with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Arizona.

Nunn's organization assists Phoenix police with Crisis Intervention Training.

Right now 250 to 300 Phoenix police officers have been through 40-hours of training on how to best handle situations involving people who are mentally ill. That's roughly ten percent of the department.

This training includes education on mental illness, as well as ways to interact with mentally ill patients.
But it's optional, not mandatory.

"Advocates have insisted we have to train all the officers in (Crisis Intervention Training). The police have pushed back, you know, it's not just training the officers, it's educating and informing the community on how to use these resources effectively."

Law enforcement from around the valley say the training is more than just sitting in a classroom.

"They have people with mental health diagnosis who come in and they speak about what it feels like. How they interact with police? How they've interacted with police in the past," said Tracey Breeden with Glendale Police.

Nunn would like to see mandatory training for all officers, as well as mental health specialists on scene whenever officers are assigned to pick up mental health patients.

"As an advocacy community, we've been screaming, fussing, and fighting for a long time. Now, we got a seat at the table, it's time to deliver," said Nunn.

Nunn is currently putting together a task force of mental health officials and law enforcement to tackle these issues. He's hoping to have it put together by September.



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