New York City officials were contrite less than 24 hours after a police sergeant shot and killed a mentally ill woman in the Bronx Tuesday night, NBC New York reported. Deborah Danner became the latest mentally ill person to be killed by police in the U.S. after the 66-year-old woman confronted officers with scissors and a baseball bat.
"What is clear in this one instance, we failed. I want to know why it happened," Police Commissioner James O'Neill said Wednesday morning. "We do have policies and procedures for handling emotionally disturbed people and it looks like some of those procedures weren't followed."
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Danner had schizophrenia, a fact established during previous 911 calls that always resulted in hospitalization, not physical force, according to Danner's sister.
"[Danner's sister] said she'd seen it done the right way and expected it to be done that way this time as well," de Blasio said Wednesday. "You can only imagine the pain she feels having had to stand there and hear the shots fired and the recognition coming over her that she had lost her sister."
Anger has arisen from politicians and activists asking why the sergeant did not use his Taser and instead reached for his gun. That question is amplified by the revelation authorities knew of Danner's history of mental illness.
Almost half of the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability, according to a report from Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization in Boston. It has proposed that while police interactions with minorities draw increasing scrutiny, disability and health considerations are widely neglected in law enforcement policy.
“Police have become the default responders to mental health calls,” write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long, who analyzed incidents from 2013-2015. They propose that “people with psychiatric disabilities” are presumed to be “dangerous to themselves and others” in police interactions.
Most recently, San Diego police shot and killed Alfred Olango, an unarmed 30-year-old black male accused of acting strangely at strip mall late last month. A video of the shooting shows Olango’s sister told police her brother was sick, but "several witnesses alleged that the officers were unduly quick to open fire and suggested that their actions had been influenced by the fact that they were dealing with a black man, one they described as mentally challenged."
A 2015 Washington Post report found police officers were more likely to kill someone because they were suicidal or mentally troubled.
“The analysis found that about 9 in 10 of the mentally troubled people were armed, usually with guns but also with knives or other sharp objects. But the analysis also found that most of them died at the hands of police officers who had not been trained to deal with the mentally ill,” the Washington Post reported.