On October 18, 2016, NYPD Sergeant Hugh Barry responded to the home of Deborah Danner in the Bronx. Barry found Danner, a diagnosed schizophrenic, holding a pair of scissors and experiencing a mental health crisis. He persuaded her to drop them, but she then picked up a bat and somehow threatened him with it. He shot her twice in her torso, killing her. Interestingly, Barry had a stun gun, but did not use it. Prosecutors who charged Barry with murder this week argue that he ignored his training. Barry’s union representatives argue that he had to make a split-second decision concerning his response to Danner, and that he did not intend to harm her.
Barry, like every other defendant, is entitled to the presumption of innocence and everything that goes with it. Further, it is almost impossible for a third party to know precisely what happened at Danner’s home unless they were there. In evaluating Barry’s culpability, it is important to remember that at the time of the shooting, NYPD had a small, well trained unit whose members were better equipped to respond to calls involving the mentally ill. Further, only about a year before the Danner shooting, the Department commenced training officers more generally in this area. However, Barry never received this training. This is not surprising. NYPD has approximately 35,000 officers who, collectively, responded to about 157,000 calls last year that involved individuals experiencing some sort of mental health crisis. However, as of this time, the Department has provided only about 5,800 officers with the more specialized crisis training.
Plans to train more officers are apparently proceeding. More shifts are being trained, as are more sergeants and high-ranking officers. The four-day training familiarizes officers with such issues as how to spot signs of mental illness, and how to empathize with someone experiencing a crisis. During the sessions, officers interact with patients and mental health professionals. Continue reading