The Honolulu Police Department Deserves Encouragement for Their Crisis Intervention Team Program

Kudos to the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) on its expansion and continued support of its Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), a training program that’s designed to help law enforcement better deal with situations they encounter with people experiencing a mental health crisis.  Officers are taught skills that can minimize risk both to themselves and the person in a mental health crisis. One goal is to prevent the need to use force all together in such situations.

CITs is a national trend that police departments are incorporating as part of their training in response to controversial incidences (followed by expensive civil lawsuits) where deadly shootings could have been prevented if only police officers had received proper training to assess mental health situations.  Besides learning to take appropriate steps in such encounters, officers learn about all the different mental illnesses.

HPD started its CIT in 2019. Recently 17 more officers have completed their CIT training for a total of 150 HPD officers. HPD officers are so welcoming of the program that there is a waiting list to get into the course. HPD aims to get 400 certified CIT officers total, which would be 20% of the department. This would ensure a trained officer could be available every shift.

Nationally one in four fatal police shootings between 2015 and 2020 involved a person with a mental illness. HPD Major Mike Lambert said officers may realize the person is suffering, but prior to the training, they don’t know how to react.

“Situations where people don’t respond the way that we want them to,” Lambert said, adding that after the course, they have a better understanding of what the person needs.

Besides HPD, Maui has an ongoing CIT. Hawaii will begin its first training soon. Kauai is looking into starting one. The 40-hour course, taken over five days, is organized by Hawaii nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness also known as NAMI.

Kumi Macdonald, Executive Director of NAMI Hawaii, said the training helps officers learn the difference between someone who needs help, instead of handcuffs.

Remembering Angelo Quinto and Laudemar Arboleda

ANGELO QUINTO. There have been two high profile cases (both occurring in California) that involved the death of Filipino Americans at the hands of police during a mental health crisis.

In December 2020, Quinto, a Navy veteran, died from complications after being knelt on the neck by a police officer for nearly five minutes. Angelo was experiencing paranoia and anxiety. His family called the police for fear that he might hurt himself or them. When police arrived, Quinto (unarmed) was forced on his stomach, handcuffed and put into the same position as George Floyd was detained (knee on neck).

Quinto begged police, “Please don’t kill me.” His sister recorded the entire incident. After losing consciousness, an ambulance was called to the family’s home and Quinto was taken to a hospital where three days later he died.

On September 30, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed eight police reform bills into law. One of them, Assembly Bill 490 or Angelo’s Law (named after Angelo Quinto), bans restraint tactics and face-down holds that could cause asphyxiation.

LAUDEMER ARBOLEDA. In 2018, police received a “suspicious” person call on Arboleda who was said to be knocking on doors and ringing doorbells in a neighborhood. His family believes he was lost and was asking for directions. Arboleda had been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons and his mother says he was afraid of police taking him back to the hospital.

When police arrived at the scene, Arboleda started to slowly drive away. Police pursued him for nine-minutes. Police officer Andrew Hall (who two years later would be charged with manslaughter and assault for the fatal shooting of Arboleda) stepped into the path of Arboleda’s car and opened fire into it, hitting Arboleda nine times. Arboleda was unarmed.

Some have criticized that it took so long to bring charges against officer Hall that it could have saved another life. After Arboleda’s death, officer Hall killed another mentally ill man. This time a homeless person stopped for jaywalking, but later brandished a weapon which the officer justified to shoot and kill him.

Both Quinto and Arboleda – both unarmed and experiencing a mental health crisis at the time police were called on them — were killed unnecessarily. Some question if racial bias had something to do with the way police responded. Some have said officers involved were ill-trained to deal with Quinto and Arboleda. Both exhibited non-threatening situations (not imminently life or death scenarios). Both were not engaged in any criminal activity when police arrived.

In recent years besides CITs, police departments across the U.S. have also started to hire and work with mental health professionals to deal with situations like Quinto and Arboleda’s.

CITs ultimately are about saving lives (both for police and the mentally ill) and saving money for departments and taxpayers.

People with mental illness are booked into the nation’s jails around 2 million times every year. This is a startling statistic and it’s about time that police departments receive proper training to deal with this huge population.

CITs are necessary as a matter of public safety. CITs need our community’s support. CITs make police officers better professionals at their jobs.  With better policing, this is a start for the restoration of public confidence in our police departments which have come increasingly under criticism and scrutiny.

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