SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A police shooting that wounded a 13-year-old autistic boy in Salt Lake City is revealing shortfalls within the way officers answer a psychological state crisis, an advocacy group said Wednesday, a neighborhood of policing that’s facing renewed scrutiny during nationwide protests over brutality by enforcement.
Similar questions are being raised in Rochester, New York, following the death of a Black man whose brother called police about his unusual behavior shortly after a psychological state evaluation. It comes as demonstrators have urged cities to “defund the police” and shift money to social services instead.
In Utah, the boy survived with serious injuries. He appears to be white supported a photograph posted online by his mother, Golda Barton, although police haven’t provided his race. Barton says she called 911 on Friday night because he was having a breakdown and she or he needed help from a crisis-intervention officer.
The Salt Lake City officers who came weren’t specialists in psychotherapy but had some psychological state training, and that they ended up shooting the boy as he ran away because they believed he made threats involving a weapon, authorities said. There were no indications he had a weapon.
An officer trained in crisis response would have handled things differently, that specialize in de-escalation and avoiding shouting or using sirens, which may be disorienting, said Sherri Wittwer, board president of CIT Utah, a nonprofit that gives psychotherapy training for enforcement.
“Someone who’s during a psychological state crisis … may have different behaviors,” Wittwer said. “And that’s why we’d like to possess officers who understand the various ways in which can look.”
Some police departments even undergo training specifically on communicating with people with autism, a developmental disorder which will involve varying degrees of language and social impairment.
The Salt Lake local department has about three officers who are crisis-intervention specialists, but they don’t answer every call involving psychological state issues, said Detective Michael Ruff, a department spokesman. He stood by the department’s model, which incorporates giving every recruit 40 hours of crisis-intervention training at its academy.
“We’re very comfortable with the program we used and with the individuals who are teaching it,” he said. “There’s quite a method to be CIT trained.”
Ruff declined to mention what tactics the officers wont to deescalate things before shooting the boy. The department says it’ll cooperate with multiple investigations.
But for Wittwer, the case is an example of why the state needs a unified, consistent program. In 2016, Salt Lake City police opted out of the training her group provides.
“When people involve a politician, they’re in their most vulnerable state, and that they got to have trust in who is going to be coming to their door,” she said.
The officers’ names, body-camera video, and 911 call records haven’t been released.
The boy’s mother, meanwhile, told Salt Lake City’s KUTV that she informed police her son has autism, was unarmed, and didn’t skills to manage his behavior.
Barton hoped they might help deescalate things and calm him down. Instead, two officers who entered her home told her son to “get down on the ground” and shot him.
“He’s a little child,” Barton told the television station. “Why didn’t you only tackle him? He’s a baby. He has mental issues.”