NOPD chief: Officer involved shooting points to need for help with mental health crises

The New Orleans Police Department is currently on the scene of an incident involving an NOPD...
The New Orleans Police Department is currently on the scene of an incident involving an NOPD officer.
Published: Jan. 5, 2019 at 10:52 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - After an officer was injured and a civilian killed in a shooting Friday night (Jan. 4) in the Treme neighborhood, New Orleans Police Superintendent Michael Harris spoke up about the issues surrounding mental health intervention.

“We run toward danger, we never run away from it. And we put our lives in danger every single day,” Harrison said at the scene.

The call was reported just after 10 p.m. in the 2300 block of Orleans Avenue, a stone’s throw from Dooky Chase.

“What we know is that we got a call, what we believe was an attempted suicide call,” Harrison said. “The first units there encountered a subject who we believe fired at our officers, striking one of our officers.”

A bulletproof vest saved the officer’s life, but when four officers returned fire, they struck and critically wounded the subject, who was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell spoke to the media alongside Harrison at the scene.

“This is life,” Cantrell said. “We are all human beings. Our officers, as well as our citizens, and this is something that involved both.”

LSU Health Sciences Criminologist Peter Scharf called the incident a “nightmare situation for a police officer." He said often times, these types of calls are the most dangerous for officers.

“We don’t pay these guys enough to handle these kinds of calls,” Scharf said. “The risks to a police officer are far greater in this situation then a SWAT call or an armed robbery car, a bank robbery, anything else because of this ambiguity.”

Scharf said that’s because motive is largely unknown in mental health crisis calls.

“Human nature is so variable in the case of mental illness or suicidal ideation," Scharf said. "Approaching a subject, you want to go home but you don’t know if the subject does.”

Scharf said officers have to be doubly trained to handle these sorts of situations, and the idea that cops can talk down any civilian in crisis is merely a myth.

“That’s a Hollywood fantasy more than reality,” Scharf said.

While leaders are relieved the officer will be okay, they’re also concerned over crisis intervention.

“This speaks to the danger of the work and, certainly, the kind of help we need with mental health crises, giving people the help they need who are in crisis,” Harrison said.

As of Saturday night, neither the officer nor the subject had been identified by authorities. The other four officers who were on scene and fired during the incident have also remained unnamed.

Harrison said multiple officers activated their body cameras before the shooting and the department is in the process of reviewing the footage. The department activated their video policy, Harrison said, which gives NOPD seven days to go through the contents and then two additional days to decide when and how to release it.

Due to a consent decree with the Department of Justice back in 2012, multiple representatives showed up to the scene Friday night.

“Right now we’re following all of our protocol, certainly, the independent police monitor’s office was notified, they are here. Members of our consent decree team were notified. Our FBI liaison was notified and so the force investigation team at the Public Integrity Bureau have initiated a formal investigation into the police involved shooting," Harrison said.

Cantrell noted on the scene it has been over a year since an NOPD officer has been involved in a shooting while on duty.

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