Families of mentally ill fear calling police may turn into deadly encounter — (New York Daily News)

To view original article click here

New York Daily News

A mentally ill family member is acting out, muttering to himself and threatening violence.

Do you call 911?

An increasing number of New Yorkers say no.

Horrified by a recent spate of fatal police encounters, loved ones of the emotionally disturbed say they fear a 911 call will lead to a violent confrontation with officers who are overzealous and undertrained.

“My husband is a brown man who struggles with bipolar disorder,” said Rama Issa-Ibrahim, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, which is the largest mental health provider to its community.

When he’s experiencing any kind of emotional distress, I don’t feel comfortable calling the cops. I don’t feel safe calling the cops.”

Issa-Ibrahim’s concern is well-founded.

In the past nine months, New York has seen seven incidents of emergency calls involving emotionally disturbed people resulting in deadly encounters with police.

Advocates say the disturbing pattern highlights the need for the city to rethink the way it responds to calls for its mentally ill in crisis.

Saheed Vassell was shot and killed after he aimed a pipe at cops who thought it was a gun. (Facebook)

“It’s happening almost every month,” said Carla Rabinowitz, of Community Access, a nonprofit that provides housing and employment training to people with mental health issues.

“No other community would accept this.” [actually, every community in North America accepts it – Ed]

A 2014 mayoral task force rolled out solutions that focused on the stepped-up training of NYPD officers.

Some 8,200 officers out of the department’s roughly 36,000 have received the crisis intervention training.

But since it began, a total of 11 people with mental health issues — all minorities — have died in encounters with cops.

“The police have proven they can’t handle the situation,” Rabinowitz said.

“They just can’t handle 400 calls of people in mental health crisis every day. People are getting killed, and it’s unfair to put the burden on the NYPD.”

Ralph Feliciello agrees.

Police gunned down Miguel Richards, who was mentally ill, after he was mistaken for brandishing a weapon. (NYPD)

The retired clinical social worker from Queens saw first-hand the menacing NYPD response when he and his wife called 911 to seek help for their 38-year-old son on Valentine’s Day.

The son was in the throes of a manic episode, expressing rage and talking about wanting to see certain people dead.

On the advice of their son’s therapist, Feliciello and his wife called 911.

They rushed over to his nearby apartment and were stunned to see a phalanx of police vehicles arriving at about the same time.

“We were overwhelmed by the amount of force that was brought to bear,” said Feliciello, 73, of Jackson Heights.

Heavily-armed Emergency Service Unit officers took the lead, punching a hole in the keyhole of the door.

Feliciello said the officers spotted his son and ordered him to put his hands up and sit on the floor.

Their son complied. Within seconds, the officers opened the door and charged into the apartment. They pressed their knees onto his chest and neck as they slapped handcuffs around his wrists.

Deborah Danner was shot and killed by NYPD police on Tuesday, October 19, 2016 in the Bronx. (Facebook)

“It became a case of a hostile terrorist being overpowered by any means of necessary,” said Feliciello.

“We consider ourselves lucky. If he had panicked and picked up a stapler, he would be dead and no one would fault the police.”

With the parents looking on in shock, the officers hauled the young man out of the building and drove him to a nearby hospital where he remained for a week.

The experience traumatized all three family members.

“We had to promise ourselves and our son that we would not call 911 in the same situation again,” Feliciello said. “That we would find some alternative. But there is nothing in place.”

He emphasized that he doesn’t fault the individual officers, but blames a lack of proper training.

“I’m not in a rage against the police,” Feliciello added. “But the policy is not humane. It’s not professional.”

The city has launched an $850 million plan to improve mental health services, including the creation of a round-the-clock hotline called NYC Well — which Mayor de Blasio urged people to use Thursday when he addressed the tragic shooting death of Saheed Vassell.

Front page of the New York Daily News for Oct. 20, 2016 on NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill admitting mistakes were made in the shooting death of Deborah Danner. (New York Daily News)

Vassell, a bipolar 34-year-old off his medication, was gunned down Wednesday by police after he pointed a silver pipe at them as if it were a gun.

Advocates say the city’s hotline steers callers reporting emotionally disturbed people to 911 dispatchers, which often escalates the problem, or directs them to a mobile crisis unit, which takes at least 24 hours to deploy.

New York also lags behind other cities in deploying teams consisting of a cop and social worker to respond to calls involving the mentally ill, experts say.

The dangers of calling 911 to deal with an emotionally disturbed person played out in horrifying fashion for Dulcina Jeune.

The Brooklyn mother called for help last July when her schizophrenic son Dwayne, 32, was acting erratically.

Two cops showed up at the family’s Flatbush Gardens home, sparking a confrontation that ended with Dwayne Jeune shot four times.

Police say the officers opened fire after the man lunged at them with a knife and didn’t respond to a Taser.

“I called 911 to help get for my son, to get medical treatment,” said his mother Dulcina Jeune.

“But look what they do. My son’s gone. I cannot see him anymore. It leaves me with lasting pain.”

Jeune said she goes out of her way to tell anyone who will listen not to call 911 if they find themselves in a similar situation.

“I tell them to call the hospital,” she said. “With the police, anything can happen.”