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Laura’s Law or Assembly Bill 1421 was created after Kelly Thomas, an individual suffering from schizophrenia, was shot by Fullerton police in July 2011.
Thomas is one of many individuals suffering from mental illness who are shot to death by police. In January of this year, Keith Vidal, 18 years old, was restrained by two police officers while a third shot him to death.
“There was no reason to shoot this kid,” Vidal’s stepfather, Mark Wilsey, told WECT referring to his stepson’s killing. “They killed my son in cold blood. We called for help, and they killed my son” (http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/07/justice/north-carolina-teen-killed/). A family friend, Anthony Owens, urged the public on a CNN blog, “Do not let this man get away with murder,” referring to the police officer who killed Vidal (http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1072965).
Last month, June 10, 2014, a judge ruled that Albuquerque must pay over $6 million for the wrongful shooting of Christopher Torres by police (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/10/christopher-torres_n_5481694.html). Torres is another man who was suffering from mental illness.
The list of individuals suffering from mental illness who were rashly, wrongfully murdered by police goes on. The unifying theme in all of them is that the police shoot to kill the individual suffering from mental illness. This repeated injustice has come to inform law. However, rather than protecting individuals with mental illness who are clearly the victims here, Laura’s Law seeks to further attack these individuals by forcing treatment.
A better solution to prevent these grievous incidents would be to provide more mental health training to police officers and operators. Police officers are not mental health professionals, and they receive minimal training in this area. An entry-level position in the mental health field often requires more mental health training than that required for police officers in the field. Because they are often first responders to mental health crises, police officers need to be given the training and tools to handle the situation in a safe way that prevents any more deaths. Safely restraining and apprehending individuals with mental health challenges should be encouraged over shooting to kill. Punishments should be increased for police officers who fail to take safe cautionary measures before killing citizens. Operators who receive 911 calls about individuals suffering from mental illness should forward these calls to the Psychiatric Emergency Team (PET) who is trained for these situations (1-800-854-7771). Individuals who are concerned about an individual with a mental health challenge should also call the PET. Let’s prevent any more of these wrongful deaths.