One out of four people who are killed in situations involving a police officer have a serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). One person who lost their life in such a situation was Anthony Hill.
On March 9, 2015, Dekalb County police officer Robert Olsen shot and killed Anthony Hill, a 27 year-old Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, Anthony Hill suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and, according to an account on Twitter that appeared to belong to Mr. Hill, posted a tweet featuring #IAmBipolar.
Anthony Hill was not only unarmed at the time of the shooting but was also completely naked. According to Olsen, Hill was acting erratically and aggressively and was not following the officer’s orders. Three witnesses were present at the time, according to the New York Times. Two of the witnesses reported Hill walked towards the officer with his hands up, and the third witness said that Hill had run towards Olsen from about 200 yards away.
Either way, one fact has stuck out. Cedric L. Alexander, the Dekalb County deputy chief operating officer for public safety told the New York Times that Olsen did have his taser at the time of the shooting. Still, no witnesses made any mention of a taser being used.
“The fact that the officer involved decided to use his gun rather than his taser is terrifying. The police are supposed to be trained in how to interact and protect the public, and this officer, when confronted with an obviously mentally ill man who in no way could have been armed considering he was wearing absolutely nothing, chose to use deadly force instead of attempting to subdue him in literally any other way.” said Adryn Bowers-Dean, a history major on the Clarkston campus.
Captain Steven Fore of the Dekalb County Police Department told NPR that Dekalb County Police Officers receive six hours of basic academy training on dealing with persons who are mentally ill.
“In addition to that, our department follows up at least every three years with an additional four hour block of instruction,” Fore is quoted as having told NPR.
It is good to know that police in our community are receiving training on how to deal with mentally ill persons. However, this training is clearly not enough. There is a higher level of training for police officers known as Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) that is offered for free by Georgia’s chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, according to their website. Still, less than 10% of Dekalb County officers are CIT certified. NPR also quoted Fore as having said that finding resources to train officers is difficult.
“When it comes to saving lives, nothing should be too difficult. The spirit of the police force used to be that they serve and protect. If finding the resources to train officers means helping them protect people, then they should find those resources, no matter how difficult it may seem. But to avoid the training even though it’s free? That’s sheer laziness and just shows Captain Fore doesn’t care what happens to people with mental illness.” said Brandon Clagg, a computer science major on the Clarkston campus.
According to CNN, the grand jury deliberated on Thursday, Jan. 21 and decided to indict Officer Robert Olsen. Olsen is now facing two counts of felony murder, two counts of violation of oath by a public officer, one count of aggravated assault and one count of making a false statement.
“A point to be stressed is the lack of training that police officers receive concerning interactions with those who have mental illnesses and tactics involving defense against unarmed suspects. Officer Olsen reportedly only received one hour of mental illness training sometime in 2011. Additionally, police officers are not ill equipped as their utility belts hold an array of weaponry, lethal and nonlethal, that if properly used could result in differentiating outcomes during an altercation. Witnesses state that Olsen, who received training in defensive tactics, use of deadly force and crisis intervention skills training, was scared when he saw Hill charging towards him from 20 yards away. Olsen reacted, his reaction being to reach for his handgun, not his taser, and to shoot Hill twice. Whether race is a factor in the actions of Olsen is also a point worth debating considering the onslaught of unarmed black Americans being killed by police currently.” said Sheen Atwa, a political science major on the Clarkston campus.