DOJ agreement brings changes to mental health calls

CLEVELAND -- There it is in black and white. Page after page of changes in police protocol when responding to calls involving someone with a mental illness.

The Department of Justice and City of Cleveland agreed upon and approved it.

"I'm more than hopeful," Cassandra Johnson tells Channel 3 News from her attorney's office.

It was November 12, 2014.

Johnson's daughter, Tanisha Anderson, bipolar and schizophrenic is having a mental breakdown. Her family calls police a second time reporting she is disturbing the peace.

Johnson, and attorney David Malik, in a civil lawsuit, allege officers used excessive force when they "screamed at her, pushed her, slammed her to the ground"

Now, the DOJ's agreement with Cleveland is a recipe for more crisis intervention training, among other things.

Changes like a mental health advisory committee and more training for officers responding to mental health calls.

For Johnson, it's a step in the right direction.

"This change is going to be for the better. For everyone. For every mentally ill person every person in general to tell you the truth."

Johnson believes it comes down to this for officers. "Stop and think what if this was my daughter? My son? What would I want?"

Family attorney David Malik added, "These officers are the difference between life and death. I'm encouraged by the settlement. Encouraged by the addition of more checks and balances by enhanced training."

The DOJ report calls for better "deescalation techniques" in crisis intervention and training for unique assessment of each situation.

"The city is going to need to get it right on the assessment criteria for mental illness. then they need to implement it. Follow it, and need to collect the data on it. They're going to need to prevent from happening what happened to Tanisha Anderson."

Tanisha's mom sees it like this, "This means that Tanisha lives. She's gone but she's not gone. She lives in the minds of police in what to do and what not to do. She lives in the change."

Malik's take?

"It's progress on paper. Let's make it progress in reality. The proof will be in the years to come."

The police union has a much different take on how Tanisha Anderson died. President Steve Loomis pointing out that the officers who responded and the dispatcher were in fact CIT (Crisis Intervention Trained).

He says they took 45 minutes trying to "de-escalate" the situation, and that it's ridiculous to hold them accountable for her death.

The bottom line is, with the DOJ agreement, more training is inevitably on the way.


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