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Sheriff Penzone requesting ‘realistic expectations’ for mental illness

(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Following the release of the 66-page independent report on last year’s spike in shooting incidents involving officers, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone provided his thoughts on the issue of mental illness and law enforcement Tuesday.

While Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams believes the use of mental health professionals in the field could benefit both the officers and the individuals they contact, Penzone, who agrees with Williams on improving resources, feels the idea is too far reaching.

“We have to make sure that we set realistic expectations for the community that we serve, and we have a tough enough time putting officers and deputies in the cars and keeping them there and properly fielding a staff level to meet the needs of the community,” Penzone told Mac & Gaydos on KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday. “Now you’re talking about trying to find experts in another particular field that can be readily available to answer calls that may be calls that have volatility. That’s a big ask.

“How do you field enough bodies to respond to 9,000 square miles in a population of five million for this specific need?”

After a record 44 officer-involved shootings took place last year, the Phoenix Police Department had an independent report conducted by the National Police Foundation into the incidents.

The report offered nine recommendations for improvement, including “alternatives and the enhancement of responses to the mentally ill.”

Williams told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday she would like to embed a mental health professional with her officers in order to appropriately respond to those calls.

She added taking a more balanced approach when responding to certain emergency calls could reduce the likelihood that shots will be fired when police show up on the scene.

Penzone offered an explanation for what he expects out of officers placed in those situations.

“Yes, deputies and officers need more training, but deputies and officers will never be experts in that field,” Penzone said about more mental health training for law enforcement. “They need to be capable of deescalation, but it’s often that we arrive on the scene not in the inception of the issue, but when it’s been going on for a lengthy period of time and there’s been just a constant ascension of that threat or that problem.

“Then we come and we’re supposed to engage it and counter it, deescalate it and resolve it. I’m not saying we don’t try to or that we’re not capable of it in some ways, but again let’s set the bar at some place that we can accomplish something and not be unrealistic.”

Mac & Gaydos

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