Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
After Times Square Shooting, Focus Shifts to Preventing Violent Confrontations
Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 04:00 AM
The fatal police shooting of a knife-wielding man in Times Square on Saturday has resulted in little political fallout. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have said the shooting appeared to be justified and by the book. Instead, the focus has been on looking ahead to a time when such violent outcomes can be reduced in frequency, or avoided altogether.
Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and prosecutor who currently teaches at John Jay College, said the NYPD needs to implement "21st century" solutions to such confrontations.
"We’re still using bullets to stop people in situations like this," O'Donnell said. "It’s a crying shame that we’ve not been able to use some of the technologies that are being experimented with in war zones and elsewhere to allow for a non-lethal end to this."
O'Donnell pointed to the use of "goo guns," which are meant to immobilize people by firing sticky foam at them, as one such 21st century alternative. But such technology would suggest an increased investment for the NYPD at a time when the department has been tightening its budget.
Retired officer Joe Guagliardo defended the NYPD's shooting of Darrius Kennedy, but thinks the department has been compromised by a lack of manpower on the streets.
If multiple officers had collectively confronted the "one little pot-smoker," he argued, rather than a single officer, Kennedy would've been much less likely to have spun out of control.
Kennedy had been subjected to psychiatric evaluation in the past, according to the police. On Saturday, the NYPD called for backup from its Emergency Services Unit, which is trained to handle unstable suspects, but they didn't arrive on the scene until after officers shot Kennedy.
Ron Honberg, the director of Policy and Legal Affairs at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, pointed out one system that has gained traction in recent years. Police departments in hundreds of other cities have adopted an approach known as CIT, or Crisis Intervention Team, which places a much greater emphasis on dealing with people with mental illness by going through simulated confrontations, and regularly talking to the families of emotionally disturbed persons. That's especially important, Honberg said, when mental health budgets are being cut.
"We ask more and more our law enforcement officers to be the first-line responders," Honberg noted. “So if that's the role they're going to take, they need to be prepared."