Editor’s Note: ChicoSol asked Diane E. Schmidt, the ranking professor of public administration in the department of political science and criminal justice at Chico State, to comment on the two deadly law enforcement shootings in Butte County that have taken place since the March 17 Chico police shooting of Desmond Phillips, a 25-year-old mentally ill black man. We have elected to run her response as a guest commentary.
by Diane E. Schmidt
I don’t see these situations as being comparable to Desmond Phillips’ killing. Desmond’s killing violated the sanctity of the home — the trust of the family calling for medical help — and instead they had to endure police officers pepper-spraying the dog, breaking in the door, and shooting the very person who most needed medical intervention. Desmond’s killing was a violation of the public trust, not just a tragic overreach of police power.
I don’t know all the details of the other killings, but I know that Desmond’s killing is the kind of situation that can strike terror in the hearts and minds of average, law-abiding folk, especially folks who have family with disabling medical conditions — and even more so for those families who have a member with mental illness as a medical condition. How can we trust that our call for help will be answered with compassionate help and not a gun-toting Robocop?
Desmond’s death is a glaring example of how public administrators fail their communities when they do not hire cross-trained police officers who live in the community — so they can tell the difference between a crime and a medical emergency involving people they live among. A cross-training partnership between mental health, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement services would best serve our community with place-based service providers who can work collaboratively to help address crises involving vulnerable citizens.
Instead, administrators hire the equivalent of a Robocop fresh off the programming conveyor belt of policing and weapons training, where the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one is part of the coding. In Desmond’s case, there was no challenge to the many, there was just a confused, mentally ill young man in medical crisis, whose dad called for medical help and got a police response. Any effort to blend Desmond’s case with other cases will and does obscure the terrible violation of the public trust that his tragic killing represents.
In short, my thoughts are with Desmond and his family; I have no comment about the other two killings.
Diane Schmidt has 40 years of experience as a policy analyst. A longtime Chico State criminal justice professor, on May 15 Schmidt wrote to Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey decrying the shooting of Desmond Phillips. She offered to help analyze the training programs, culture and policies of Butte County law enforcement. Ramsey did not respond to her letter and no news outlet other than ChicoSol has reported on her offer. Read our story here — Editor.