When journalists look critically at deaths by police action they’ll find the vast majority have one thing in common – the deceased person’s thinking and/or their ability to communicate was impaired. The causes and severity of impairment may be different death by death. Typical causes are untreated mental illness, untreated addiction and alcoholism, untreated psychiatric injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder, developmental disabilities, brain injuries, diabetes and epilepsy, neurological disorders, cultural and language barriers, dementia, and others.
We believe – after reviewing the public record of hundreds of deaths – whether the deceased person was impaired should be a primary concern to officers, investigators, police and city administrators, risk and insurance administrators, bond-holders, medical examiners, judges, district attorneys, plaintiffs attorneys, family, friends and neighbors.
These deaths are rare but predictable and are largely avoidable. It is incumbent on police bureaus and city administrators to provide recruiting, training, ongoing support, tools, funding, policy, procedure, strategies and tactics, sufficient so a zero tolerance policy for non-accidental police-caused deaths can assure citizens that police officers are safe to engage with persons who are impaired.
Firing multiple bullets into a person is not an accident. Beating and kicking a person who is on the ground and crying “Mercy!” is not an accident. Cutting off a person’s breath until they suffocate is not an accident. Tasering someone past the point of submission is not an accident.
“Suicide by cop” is not an accident.