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Courts and Crime

Police shooting panel says officers need a plan for responding to mental health crises

CBS 13
via the Bangor Daily News
A man was fatally shot by Falmouth police during a confrontation on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021.

The state's Deadly Force Review Panel says the lack of mental health services in rural Maine contributes to situations that can escalate into cases of lethal force by police officers. The panel's report says the typical victim in many of those cases is a middle-aged man, who lives in an isolated rural place, has a criminal history and a weapon, who is known to be potentially violent. Panel Co-Chair Francine Garland Stark says the first time police encounter a person in those circumstances is the time to assess the risk of violent outcomes.

"From the first time someone comes into our system, what are we doing to assess the risk this individual poses to themselves and to others. And what are we able to do around that person to help prevent them from getting to that level of crisis," Garland Stark says.

Garland Stark says law enforcement agencies need to build relationships with community mental health advocates before there's a crisis and use them to de-escalate violent interactions.

"At minimum all law enforcement agencies need to seek out what mental health services are in their community and be prepared ahead of time about whom they can consult with and strategize on the right approach," Garland Stark says.

The Maine Criminal Justice Academy this month instituted a new policy that outlines proper procedures for responding to people with a mental illness, including the use of involuntary commitment and protection of the public from substantial threats. Maine's Attorney General office, which reviews all deadly force cases, has found no officer guilty of using deadly force without just cause in the last 30 years.

The panel will continue to meet, review cases and develop improved procedures for law enforcement agencies.