For many people in crisis, the presence of police doesn't have a calming effect. In fact, police often escalate mental health situations by attempting to restrain an individual. (A cop is trained to think that if they are not in control, then they are in danger, a mentality that doesn't serve well amongst people in mental anguish.)
Police often cite the dangers of their job as justification for use of force. On any given day in Oakland, you can see Oakland officers with guns drawn, chasing, surrounding, arresting.
When someone gets hurt or arrested, we're lead to believe that they are criminals or they weren't compliant. We're told that the cops were in fear for their safety, and that force had to be used.
In these stories, we are told to overlook the serious issues in play. For instance, we're asked to overlook poverty, and how police contribute to poverty by stopping, ticketing, and arresting members of the public. The police would also prefer that the public consider mental health an issue suitable for law enforcement.
Mental health issues are not crimes, but in a city like Oakland, where schools and other public resources are getting shut down left and right, mental health incidents are under OPD's jurisdiction.
But even in Berkeley, a city known for their supposed tolerance of people with disabilities, the city's "toothless" mental health team is sometimes dispatched to incidents alongside the police. How do police make these situations better?
If the recent killing of Kayla Moore by Berkeley police shows us anything, it's that the police are incapable of de-escalating tense situations where criminal enforcement has no place.
But Oakland has also lost its share of people due to officers who blur the line between use of force and aide. If mental health advocates truly existed in Oakland, Parnell Smith, Brownie Polk, Matt Cicelski, and many more might still be with us here today.
Oakland Police Department's Policy around Mental Health
Oakland Police Mental Health Policy