Police in Mesa, Arizona, are taking steps to better protect people with cognitive disabilities and/or mental illness in the wake of the death of a man with autism.
On Friday, Feb. 12, Police Chief John Meza announced the creation of a full-time crisis-response team and a “mental health advisory board” which will assist the police department in developing, recommending and reviewing polices and training techniques, AZ Central reported.
The crisis-response team will include four full-time detectives who will help patrol officers in challenging situations. Mesa police received 2,600 suicidal-person calls in 2015, demonstrating the need for a special unit, Meza says in the video below.
The announcement comes just a week after the death of Kayden Clarke, a transgender man with autism who was shot dead by Mesa police officers. Officers were sent to Clarke’s house on a suicidal-person call Feb. 4 and opened fire after Clarke, armed with a knife, charged them.
Clarke, 24, formerly named Danielle Jacobs, was known for a video he shared last year of himself being comforted by his dog during a meltdown. Millions viewed the clip, and it helped spread awareness about the role of an autism service dog. The video has since been made private.
“This tragedy highlights the increased need for first responder training to teach first responders to effectively interact with autistic and special needs individuals,” Dr. Julian Maha, founder and CEO of the autism nonprofit Kulture City, told The Mighty after the news of Clark’s death broke last week.. “The training will give them much needed tools to effectively communicate with autistic individuals, help keep both parties safe and hopefully prevent tragedies like these.”
The officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave, which is standard for officer-involved shooting situations, reported ABC 15 Arizona. No officers involved were injured.
In addition to these changes, Meza also plans to increase the percentage of crisis intervention officers on patrol above the national average (20-25 percent of the officers on patrol) by the end of the year, AZ Central reported. The department has added eight hours of basic crisis training for new recruits, mental health refresher courses for current officers, and increased the number of first responders with training.
See Police Chief Meza’s statement in the video below: