Where do we go From Here? Mental Health and the Detroit Police Department.
Last year, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) rolled out a mental health crisis intervention training program citywide. Then-Interim Detroit Police Chief James White exclusively announced the strategic plan to roll out Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), across its police precincts to the Michigan Chronicle. Mental health professionals have worked alongside officers on critical incidents such as … Continued
Last year, the Detroit Police Department (DPD) rolled out a mental health crisis intervention training program citywide.
Then-Interim Detroit Police Chief James White exclusively announced the strategic plan to roll out Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), across its police precincts to the Michigan Chronicle.
Mental health professionals have worked alongside officers on critical incidents such as domestic violence and barricaded gunman situations to address high-stress situations that could not be handled by police alone.
Is the system working one year later?
Some don’t think so.
Porter Burks, 22, of Detroit, was killed by Detroit police during a mental health check, WDIV reported.
According to the report, Burks had a mental health crisis in early October and his family called the police for help. The activist group, By Any Means Necessary, protested on the city’s west side seeking justice for the young man.
The police responded and discovered Burks with a knife on Snowden Avenue and Lyndon Street near his house, according to the article.
“We want to know the name of the cops involved, and we want them fired and jailed for murder,” said Benjamin Royal in the article.
Police tried to calm down Burks and reported that he refused to put down the knife he was carrying and came at officers, which is when five officers fired 38 shots at Burks.
“Nobody should be bringing guns to a mental health crisis,” Royal said in the article.
“What we really need is more mental health services, but above all, what we really need is those killer cops locked up, and their names made public, so we know who they are.”
The DPD said they investigated every aspect of the tragedy. They say one officer drove Burks to the hospital while another performed chest compressions until they arrived.
“There is absolutely no justification for the execution that they committed against Porter Burks,” Royal said.
Royal says Burks’ family is “torn up and angry” over the death.
According to the article, an internal investigation is underway, and Michigan State Police will conduct the criminal investigation. Once the interview is finished, the results will be handed over to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office for review.
Capt. Tonya Leonard-Gilbert, who oversees CIT training for Detroit police, said in a Detroit Free Press article that CIT officers have 40 hours of CIT training, also with eight hours of mental health first aid training that all officers are required to receive in the department.
In precincts — the 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th, and Downtown Services — a co-response vehicle includes two CIT-trained officers and a behavioral health specialist responding to nonviolent, mental health calls, Leonard-Gilbert said in the article.
The Detroit Police Department says that their system is working despite objectors. Officers have helped lead the way on countless safe results with mentally ill and armed individuals using crisis intervention training that doesn’t make the news, the department wrote in a statement last week, according to the article.
Attorney Geoffrey Fieger will take over the family’s case, according to the article.
Fieger, who questioned the department’s crisis intervention training, called Burk’s death more than preventable — an “execution” by a “firing squad.”
He also said in the article, “If that’s crisis intervention, God help us all.”
The effort to implement robust mental health policing policy is still necessary and began under former police chief James Craig. Craig launched the training for two precincts before his retirement last summer.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Burks was diagnosed with schizophrenia and the released footage of the DPD shooting reportedly raised more questions than answers on why there were no de-escalation protocols used in the moments leading up to his death.
“I thought it was a wild, wild, west shootout, like Clint Eastwood movies,” said protester Moe X, 61, who attended a small demonstration outside the Detroit Public Safety Headquarters on Monday, according to the Detroit Free Press article.
“I know they have de-escalation training, for sure. But how are you trying to de-escalate, and then you turn around and shoot 38 times? [Burks] didn’t put the knife down, and then ‘pow, pow!’ All five of them opened up to shoot that many bullets,” X said in the article.
“He wasn’t Jason, he wasn’t Freddy Krueger, he wasn’t no monster. How you shoot a human being like that?”
White said in the article that fatal force is never the wanted result, however, his officers had minimal time to “stop the threat” after they felt Burks was lunging toward them with a knife.
Malik Shabazz, an activist and organizer against city gun violence, said in the article that he was shocked by what he saw in the video. “I give the officers credit for initially trying to de-escalate the situation. They were trying to communicate. Then all of the sudden it went helter-skelter. It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. I don’t understand,” Shabazz said in the article.
Community activists also recall the Detroit police killings of Nakita Williams in 2021 and Darrien Walker in 2020, both individuals thought to have bouts of mental illness. Williams held an airsoft gun; Walker held a sword and dagger.
“The selective video released by James White does not show DPD use [of] non-lethal means before shooting Porter,” the racial justice organization Detroit Will Breathe wrote in a statement. “What it does show is DPD’s willingness to use lethal force when responding to a routine mental health call. When police are tasked with providing mental health services, tragedy is the outcome.”
Violent-related police encounters, which involve mental illness is a problem across the nation, according to the report.
Per a Washington Post database, since October 11, at least 7,802 people were shot and killed by police since 2015 — and among those, 1,651 were thought to have been battling some form of mental illness.
Andre Ash, digital anchor, contributed to this report.