Op-Ed by C J Oakes
To the north of Albuquerque lies the small town Bernalillo, New Mexico. Located just off I-25, the town has nearly 7000 residents and not much else. It recently made headlines after police subdued a mentally-man to death in front of the local Wal-Mart Supercenter. The reason was because two of the police officers are seen on camera ‘fist-bumping’ right after the man goes limp.
Clashes with Mentally Ill Often Result in the Death of the Suspect
Persons with mental health issues are growing, not only in America, but worldwide. The rates of chronic depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, and more continue to grow. What is more, those with mental disorders commonly expect to be mal-treated by police. Finally, few police officers are trained to deal with the mentally ill. As a result, the clashes which do take place often end in tragedy, both for the mentally ill suspect and the police involved.
Sure, some police may be heartless and delight in the death of a suspect, as appears to be the case in the video footage of Bernalillo police provided by the UK Mirror. View that Video here. But most are just people trying to do their best in a difficult job–furthermore, they are limited by what their superiors offer for training. If they are not properly trained, they are not accountable. Think about that. Set it aside for a moment.
Subdued to Death by Police…a Growing Phenomenon
The case of Eric Gardner in New York City brought to the national attention the issue of police killing suspects by their chosen methods in the use of force. Use of Force training is part of the curriculum for all law enforcement officials.
However, use of force training in Corrections is different and far less lethal than use of force training for police. Why?
In the 1980s, many inmates in custody were dying at the hand of corrections officials. Investigations and lawsuits brought to light a particular method of restraining inmates which was resulting in the deaths. It became known that holding a person flat on their stomach in the prone position, then placing a knee in the middle of their back, would often result in suffocation. So starting in the 90s, prison standards changed to reflect the new understanding.
Since the 90s, deaths because of suffocation when restraining inmates has plummeted.
Training for police officers is different. There are no restrictions on use of force and the methods deployed to restrain a combative suspect. As a result, police, even if they know it is dangerous to do so, are permitted to hold a suspect in a prone position, knee in back. The result of often death.
Of course, if the police officer does not know the danger, he can hardly be held accountable. If he does, then that changes things considerably.
Do Police and Law Enforcement Officials Know that Certain Restraint Practices Likely Result in Death?
It would take a serious stretch of the imagination to believe that those in charge of passing laws and those in charge of enforcement agencies do not know that certain restraint tactics are deadly. Sure, a rookie police officer or even one on the force for several years may plead ignorance, but to believe that those in charge do not know would be incredulous.
So why don’t they change the policies?
Considering that the prone position is one of the most effective, could it be that they believe the risk is worthwhile?
Given that a death in custody often results in lawsuits, could ignorance on the part of those who directly caused the death, the officers, reduce the ultimate payouts?
Given that in-custody deaths meet with potential criminal liability, could the lack of training help exonerate and insulate individual police officers from criminal charges?
Could it be that the police superviors are just stupid?
Are they simply ingorant?
Do they just not care?
Or are they, as the conspiracy theorists would have us believe, intentionally allowing such tactics simply to ‘cull the herd?’
Knee to the Back when Prone Suffocates…It’s Common Sense
The New Mexico Department of Public Safety Training and Recruiting Division, Title 10, Chapter 29, Part 7.8 provides the In-service training curriculum for police officers in the state. Although nearly 20% of the population of New Mexico is identified as having some form of mental illness, the curriculum offers NO training for these persons. This, despite ample evidence that mentally ill persons are more likely to become involved with police.
Either the State of New Mexico does not care enough about those with mental illness or they want to play the ignorance card.
However, even with the proper training in dealing with the mentally-ill, without a change in policies allowing police to apply deadly tactics in subduing suspects, in-custody deaths will continue.
Corrections officers in America are often chided by police, who consider themselves superior to prison officials. In fact, police in New York recently assaulted a retired corrections officer even after he identified himself. Yet, in being either willfully ignorant or simply lacking common sense in the application of safe restrain use, police are showing themselves to be 20 years behind the corrections system.
Still, it is up to the public to demand that enough is enough. Until either the public raises its voice enough to be heard or the lawsuits finally mount high enough to quell deadly use of force on the part of police, it will continue.
Police will continue to subdue to death their suspects and some will even ‘fist-bump’ the results until the public gets enough.