Boise’s community ombudsman is reviewing the Boise Police Department’s methods for dealing with suicidal people.
This announcement comes after ombudsman Pierce Murphy cleared a BPD officer from any wrong-doing in the May shooting death of Troy Epperley, a Boise man who was reported as suicidal.
Murphy was appointed in 1999 to review the Boise Police Department after complaints of the use of force. He has reviewed 18 incidents during his tenure, and says that more than half of these involved calls from people experiencing a mental health or emotional crisis.
“An increasing number of calls for police service involves someone who was either suicidal or experiencing a crisis that places them or others at great risk," says Murphy. "I’m convinced that we need to do more to prevent suicide and to get people in crisis the help they need long before the police need to be called.”
Murphy says there needs to be more affordable and accessible treatment options for people experiencing mental illness in the community. Murphy also says he hopes more people will call the new suicide prevention hotline.
But if police are called during an emergency, he says the officers need to have the best training and tactics available.
Speaking alongside Murphy at a news conference Wednesday, Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson says he is proud of the department’s record. He points out that before Epperley’s death this May, the last time an officer fatally shot someone was in 2007.
“Boise Police Department will continue to respond to handle emergencies and people in crisis," Masterson says. "That’s our job, that’s what you pay us for.”
But Masterson agrees there has been a significant increase in the number of mental health emergency calls in the past four years. He points to the three-week old suicide prevention hotline as an essential resource.
“We’re hoping that that can be used more often, so that we’re not involved in going out and responding to folks in crisis. That we’re leaving that to trained professionals who have the time and luxury by telephone to talk to people.”
The ombudsman’s review will likely take a few months. Murphy will look at how other communities handle calls involving people experiencing mental health emergencies.
Six years ago, Boise police began using a program to train new officers to handle suicidal emergencies. Currently 35 officers have this training, but none of those officers responded to the Epperley call.
Copyright 2012 Boise State Public Radio