The Greens have obtained exclusive NSW Police data that shows an undertrained and under-supported Police Force struggling to deal with people experiencing mental illness.
Since the shooting death of Roni Levi on Bondi Beach in 1997 there have been 38 people shot and killed by police. Over half of these appear to have been facing significant mental health issues at the time of their deaths.
Remarkably the NSW Police Force has not been tracking this data. Since 2007 there has been a worrying upward trend in shooting deaths, including those of people with mental illness. This is despite an array of less lethal options like tasers and capsicum spray.
According to police data in 2016 “the NSW Police Force responded to 61,441 mental health related incidents across the State”. This is likely to significantly underestimate the number of encounters police have with people suffering mental illness.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“Over the last 20 years we’ve seen repeated police encounters with people struggling with mental illness that too often end in fatal shootings.
“Again and again the coroner has recommended better training for police and more rigorous compliance with mental health protocols, yet little seems to have changed.
“What too often confronts police is a highly charged and dangerous situation that they are not adequately trained to deal with.
“There is no doubt that NSW police often act with real bravery and the intent to save lives, but this data shows that too often things go wrong.
“We know that in many cases the mere presence of police can escalate a situation, putting both police and the public at risk.
“We need to start asking if the best way to respond to a person in severe mental distress is a heavily armed police officer.
“It’s completely unfair to expect young police officers to respond daily to people in serious mental distress with only one day of training under their belt.
“The budget allocated to the Mental Health Intervention Team is only around $650,000 of the police’s total budget of $3,479,000,000. $5 million alone has been allocated for additional bullet proof vests.
“This is hard policy work but it starts with acknowledging that police aren’t the only, or the best, solution to mental health issues in the community.
“A serious investment in mental health resources and a rethinking of police training is necessary if we are to save lives in the future,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Download the documents released under FOI here: http://opengovernmentnsw.org.au/download/gipa-to-police-deaths-from-police-operations/
Questions from Mr David Shoebridge MLC during 2017 Senate Estimates:
Mental Health Intervention Team
- What is the total annual cost of the NSW Police Force Mental Health Intervention Team?
ANSWER: I am advised: The direct cost of the Mental health Intervention Team in 2016/17 was $656,212.
- Has there been a decrease in the number of police fatal and non-fatal shootings since the establishment of this team?
ANSWER: I am advised: It cannot be reasonably or reliably implied or concluded that the Mental Health Intervention Team or mental health causation are associated with the occurrence of shooting incidents. To do so fundamentally misunderstands the complex nature of dealing with suspected offenders in diverse circumstances. Injuries resulting from the discharge of a police firearm are the subject of critical incident investigations, which are monitored by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, and the NSW Coroner reports every year on deaths in custody or during a police operation, providing for scrutiny and transparency in such cases.