Note: The following Op-Ed appeared on Page A5 of the January 21, 2013 edition of the St. George, Utah, Daily Spectrum. The town of Hurricane, Utah, where this incident occurred and whose police department responded to this incident, is a nearby suburb.
Crisis Intervention Team officers are regular patrol officers who are specially trained to respond to incidents in which subjects’ mental health may be in question. Opinions may vary, but, personally, there is little doubt in my mind that Brian Cardall would still be alive today if CIT officers had responded to this incident.
Cardall [situation] shows us CIT need
By Ken K. Gourdin
The tragic death of Brian Cardall after a Hurricane police officer used a Taser on him when the officer responded to an incident in which Cardall was in the throes of a bipolar episode, along with the city’s subsequent settlement with the family, has several important lessons to offer.
Innovation and development of so-called “less-than-lethal” weapons will continue. Notwithstanding Cardall’s tragic death, such development is a good thing. The more tools law enforcement has, the better.
Still, perhaps less-than-lethal weapons have lulled some officers into a false sense of security. Because these weapons are considered less-than-lethal, perhaps some officers have grown too willing to resort to their use without exhausting other options at their disposal.
True, undue 20/20 hindsight-driven criticism of those upon whom we rely to make split-second life-or-death decisions should be avoided. Nonetheless, it should not be forgotten that whatever weapons an officer has at his disposal, his most important tools are not weapons. They are his brain, his eyes, his ears, and his voice.
An officer should use his brain and his voice to attempt to reason with those he encounters, and should allow input from his eyes and his ears to guide his response to the circumstances in which he finds himself. Whether that process is a matter of a second or two or whether it is a longer process, an officer should always attempt adequately to assess the situation before responding.
Some of law enforcement’s most important innovations are not weapons. One tool that may help officers assess situations effectively, especially when responding to incidents involving the mentally ill, is Crisis Intervention Team training.
CIT gives officers the tools to respond effectively to someone in the throes of a mental illness episode or crisis by acquainting them with the possible effects of various illnesses. It teaches them how to respond more effectively to someone experiencing those effects.
CIT officers are regular patrol officers who respond to incidents in which mental illness play[s] a role. Its proponents advocate CIT training for all patrol officers; at the very least, they feel that every agency should have a contingent of CIT-trained officers, and that CIT training may have led to a different outcome in incidents such as the one that led to Cardall’s death.
Discussion and debate over officers’ use and non-use of weapons[,] both less-than-lethal and lethal, in any given encounter with the public also will continue. Just as is the case with the development of other tools, that, too, is a good thing. [I]f negotiation and reasoning will defuse a situation, it’s best to avoid resorting to a wapon of any kind.
Anything law enforcement officers can learn from their colleagues’ experiences without having to encounter similar circumstances themselves also is a good thing. While Cardall’s family does deserve compensation, anything other agencies and the communities they protect can learn from their counterparts without having to pay $2 million to settle a lawsuit is a good thing, too.
Ken K. Gourdin lives in Tooele.