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Calls for reform to mental health crisis response

Posted at 9:53 PM, Jul 23, 2020

BALTIMORE — A coalition of civil rights organizations is calling for changes to how mental crises are handled in Baltimore City.

The groups are pointing to a recent officer involved shooting in Northeast Baltimore.

They want to see reform to dispatch, training, and personal who get sent to these scenarios.

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said they are going to roll out a 40 hour crisis intervention training.

On July 1, police got a call from a family member trying to get help for a man having a mental health crisis.

RELATED: Breakdown of officer involved shooting involving mentally unstable man known to police

For ten minutes these officers talked to the man whose been identified as Ricky Walker Jr.

He can be heard repeatedly saying they are going to kill me and the Baltimore City police officers try to calm him down.

When he points a gun— the officers shoot him several times.

David Prater, a managing Attorney at Disability Rights Maryland, contributed to the letter calling for reform.

“Relying on police to handle what we call behavioral health crisis, or mental health crisis really provides a one way path back to institutional settings,” said Prater. “Either jails or state hospitals, or even in extreme circumstances like Mr. Walkers case injury and in even more serious cases death.”

Prater says when institutions for mental health patients started to close down, leaders promised to make community based mental services available.

He and other civil rights organization leaders wrote a letter to the Mayor, Police Commissioner, State’s Attorney, and Health Department.

In it they list four demands.

“Including 24 mobile crisis teams. Including crisis stabilization centers,” said Prater. “An ability to take calls from 9-1-1 and connect them with services.”

Walker was arrested 10 days before he was shot, and that time police said he was in the street naked shooting at cars.

Investigators say in both incidents Walker was armed.

But Prater says there are times when officers are called and there is no imminent threat, and that needs to change.

“Dispatch and their 9–1-1 call centers and identifying calls where police response is not needed.”

David Rocah with the ACLU of Maryland said it’s not the officers fault that they were put in the situation— but the system's fault for not having a better plan.

“They are not trained or equipped to deal with this. It was not de-escalation,” said Rocah. “In fact their mere presence with guns and handguns was itself escalating which you can see. Which any human being can see simply by watching the video and watching him get more agitated and say over and over again they are here to kill me.”

We reached out to police for an update on Walkers case and condition and for a response to the letter but haven’t heard back.

Walker is charged with first degree assault.