MANHATTAN — Mayor Bill de Blasio rejected a call for an official review of how the NYPD responds to emotionally disturbed people, days after an NYPD officer fatally shot a mentally ill man in his East Flatbush apartment.
The comments Thursday came days after the family of Dwayne Jeune and Councilman Jumaane Williams demanded the formation of a task force to come up with a plan for addressing how to prevent the deaths of mentally ill people when 911 is called.
“I don’t personally see the need for a specific task force because I think it’s an area of tremendous concern right now, both at City Hall and with the NYPD to continue to improve the NYPD’s ability to address situations involving emotionally disturbed people,” de Blasio said Thursday at an unrelated press conference at One Police Plaza. “I’ll remind you, the number of calls each year is staggering.”
The NYPD responded to approximately 150,000 calls about emotionally disturbed people in 2016, the mayor said.
“I think for most New Yorkers if they understood that our police officers, who remember, went into the field of policing, not mental health, but end up having to deal with such complicated situations,” de Blasio said. “That’s why the training is so important but even more so getting to the root cause of this is the most important thing.”
Jeune, 32, was fatally shot Monday afternoon by police after his mother called 911 because her son, who neighbors and police said suffered from mental illness, was acting erratically, according to the NYPD.
Jeune charged officers with a large carving knife, and after an officer’s Taser failed to bring him down, anther officer shot him in the chest, mortally wounding him, police said.
Dulcina Jeune, center, the mother of Dwayne Jeune, prays Tuesday with Councilman Jumaane Williams and others outside her apartment building in which police fatally shot her son on Monday. (DNAinfo/Noah Hurowitz)
Jeune's mother, Dulcina, who was in the apartment when the shooting occurred, has not yet spoken publicly about the incident.
The councilman and local ministers raised questions about how police respond to 911 calls about mentally ill individuals, especially after last year's death of Deborah Danner, a Bronx woman who was fatally shot after a neighbor called 911. The police sergeant who shot Danner, Hugh Barry, has been charged with second degree murder in her death and pleaded not guilty in May.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill said that Jeune's shooting appears to be a justified use of force under the NYPD's guidelines for officers.
"As far as everything that we see right now, all protocols were followed," he said.
However, in the wake of Jeune’s death, local leaders, including Williams, and pastors with the 67th Precinct Clergy Council said Jeune’s death was a wakeup call that the NYPD has to seriously assess how to minimize the risk to officers and the mentally ill when responding to similar 911 calls.
“We cannot keep having people who simply need help keep ending up dead,” Williams said at a press conference outside the Jeune family’s building at 1370 New York Ave. Tuesday afternoon. “My office is demanding that within 60 days, a task force be not only formed, but will have completed a top-to-bottom investigation of what the protocol is with emotionally disturbed people and what changes will be made.”
Williams did not immediately respond to de Blasio’s apparent dismissal of his call to action.
The NYPD is currently in the process of increasing crisis intervention training for its officers, but according to a Department of Investigation report issued in January, just 4,700 officers, or 13 percent of the force, had received such training as of December, 2016.
The NYPD receives roughly 400 mental-crisis calls a day but has yet to implement a dispatch system to ensure officers who have already received the training respond to those calls, the report said.
The officer who shot him, Miguel Gonzalez, was involved in a similar incident in October when he shot and wounded Devonte Pressley, 23, in East Flatbush after police said Pressley, who suffers from bipolar disorder, charged officers with a knife.
And unlike the other three officers who responded that day, Gonzalez has yet to receive crisis intervention training, despite the earlier shooting of Pressley.
Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Jeune’s father Vibert blasted the NYPD for sending an officer with the shooting of another mentally ill man under his belt into a potentially volatile situation with his son.
“That officer has done bad things before, and to send him back to calm a situation — no he didn’t calm the situation. He made it worse,” Vibert Jeune said. “My son was not a bad person. He had his problems. You call upon those who believe would help you, but all they do is to kill.”
The police commissioner said that the shooting Gonzalez had previously been involved in appears to be justified, though he noted the department review had not been completed.