Special NYPD unit needed for calls involving emotionally disturbed people, SBA president says

The Sergeants Benevolent Association is calling for a specialized unit to handle calls involving people who appear to be emotionally disturbed following the release of body camera footage from the first police-involved shooting to be recorded in the city.

SBA president Ed Mullins on Monday denounced the NYPD’s decision last week to release more than 30 minutes of video from the officers’ Sept. 6 standoff with Miguel Richards, 31, inside his Bronx apartment, arguing that the footage is evidence and its release compromised the Bronx district attorney’s investigation.

“Body camera video is not, nor was it ever intended to be, a live stream reality television production making public all actions of police officers who wear them on a real-time basis,” Mullins said in an emailed statement.

But the SBA president also used the footage to bolster his argument for a “highly trained and specialized” NYPD unit to respond to cases similar to the deadly encounter with Richards.

Police had been called to Richards’ apartment building at 3700 Pratt Ave. by his landlord, who was worried that he hadn’t seen his tenant in several days, NYPD Chief of Department Carlos Gomez had said. When they gained access to the apartment, the officers found Richards standing in the corner of a bedroom with the lights off, wearing sunglasses and holding a knife. His other hand was hidden behind his back.

The officers’ body cameras captured the entire encounter between Richards and police, from the time they entered his apartment and demanded that he drop the knife to the point when Richards pulled what appeared to be a gun from behind his back and the officers opened fire. The weapon later turned out to be a toy.

“…It is clear that no level of training can possibly prepare police officers for the myriad and unpredictable actions of an emotionally disturbed individual who is intent on harming himself, the responding officers, or others,” Mullins said.

Calls involving emotionally disturbed people come with “unique dangers,” according to Mullins, especially when they are armed.

The new unit of specially trained officers should have the resources and tools available to “address the unpredictable nature of mental illness and those who suffer from it,” he added.

The NYPD has a specific protocol that officers are trained on when it comes to handling calls involving emotionally disturbed people. A request for comment regarding Mullins’ statements was not immediately returned by the NYPD.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch was also critical of the NYPD’s decision to release the body camera recordings last week, arguing that the district attorney’s investigation was ongoing and the videos shouldn’t have been made public until it was over.

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark had met before the footage was released and discussed how the recordings could be put out so that it wouldn’t compromise the investigation, according to law enforcement sources.