Detroit Police Chief James White had a choice to make.
He could shield his department from scrutiny and keep out of public view body camera footage of five officers firing 38 rounds at 20-year-old Porter Burks in three seconds, killing him Oct. 2. He was hit up to 15 times. That would align with his department’s practice of not releasing footage at the start of an investigation, White said two days after the murder.
Or, White could post the video, in the interest of transparency. And that’s what he decided to do – albeit only parts of the footage from a crisis response officer’s perspective.
After:Detroit police release footage of officers fatally shooting Porter Burks
Community members were already in turmoil after the killing of Burks, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and suffered a mental health crisis as he was clutching a knife when he was shot. This anger did not subside after the broadcast of the images.
The footage raised more questions about what the Detroit Crisis Response Team is, how police are trained to respond to a mental health crisis and why Porter was killed even with de-escalation protocols in place .
“It was not a monster”
“I thought it was a savage, savage, western shooting like in the Clint Eastwood movies,” said protester Moe X, 61, who attended a small demonstration outside the city’s headquarters on Monday. Detroit Public Safety.
The protest was organized by the Detroit chapter of the National Action Network, which demanded White release the names of the officers involved in the murder and fire them.
“I know they have de-escalation training, of course. But how do you try to defuse, then turn around and shoot 38 times? (Burks) didn’t put the knife down, then ‘pow, pow! ‘ All five opened up to fire that many bullets,” X said.
“It wasn’t Jason, it wasn’t Freddy Krueger, it wasn’t a monster. How do you shoot a human being like that?”
White said lethal force is never the desired outcome, but his officers had little time to “stop the threat” after they perceived Burks rushing at them with a knife.
Malik Shabazz, an activist who organizes to fight gun violence in the city and often supports police initiatives, was shocked by the video.
“I recognize that the officers first tried to defuse the situation. They were trying to communicate. Then all of a sudden it all fell apart. It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. I don’t understand,” he said. said Shabazz.
And Burks’ family and their attorney, Geoffrey Fieger, have also questioned the department’s crisis intervention training. Fieger repeatedly called the killing an “execution” by “firing squad” and said “if this is a crisis intervention, God help us all.”
The Detroit Crisis Response Team was established in October 2020 and is modeled after the International Crisis Response Team program. It is a partnership between local law enforcement, the Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network, mental health and addictions professionals, those who suffer from mental illness or addiction, and their advocates.
The Detroit Free Press has requested training materials to help explain to the public how Detroit officers are trained to respond to a person in mental health crisis who may be wielding a weapon, such as a knife. The Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health Network, which provides the training, did not provide this training material. Detroit police provided a training program.
Here’s what we know:
What does the crisis intervention team do?
The Detroit-Wayne Crisis Response Team, according to its website:
- Is police crisis response made up of officers trained to assist people with mental illness or addiction and help provide them with resources, “rather than placing them in the criminal justice system.”
- Promotes the safety of officers and those whom officers encounter.
Capt. Tonya Leonard-Gilbert, who leads CIT training for Detroit police, said CIT officers receive 40 hours of CIT training, in addition to the eight hours of mental health first aid training that all officers must receive. in the departement.
In select precincts — 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 12th, and Downtown Services — a co-response vehicle staffed by two CIT-trained officers and a behavioral health specialist responds to nonviolent mental health calls, a said Leonard-Gilbert.
The Burks incident happened in the 2nd district. Leonard-Gilbert said the co-response team would not have been the primary unit to respond because Burks had a knife, but would have been a secondary unit.
Leonard-Gilbert said the CIT program was underway before 2020 and the high volume of calls for mental health services that occurred early in the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the launch of the program.
Detroit Police hope to expand the co-response portion of the program to all 12 precincts by the end of 2022.
“There is a mental health crisis across the country,” Leonard-Gilbert said. “It’s just one more thing, one more way to involve the community to help provide services and resources. We’re trying to make sure everyone is okay.”
According to the curriculum provided by the Detroit Police, CIT officers are trained to:
- Basic crisis intervention.
- Verbal de-escalation.
- Trauma-Informed Policing.
- Mental health awareness.
- Cultural considerations.
- Implicit bias.
Agents also play intermediate and advanced crisis scenarios. When asked if the police could play out a scenario similar to what Burks had experienced, Leonard-Gilbert referred the question to the Detroit-Wayne Integrated Health System. The health system did not react.
Does crisis intervention work?
The Detroit Police Department says yes. Officers have produced many proven results with mentally ill and armed individuals using non-headline crisis intervention training, the department wrote in a statement last week.
Community activists who remember the Detroit police killings of Nakita Williams in 2021 and Darrien Walker in 2020, both of whom allegedly struggled with mental illness, are unhappy. Williams was holding an airsoft gun, Walker was holding a sword and a dagger.
“Selective video released by James White does not show DPD using non-lethal means before shooting Porter,” Detroit racial justice organization Will Breathe wrote in a statement. “What this shows is DPD’s willingness to use lethal force when responding to a routine mental health call. When the police are tasked with providing mental health services, tragedy is the result .”
Violence in police calls involving mental illness is a nationwide problem.
According to a Washington Post database, as of October 11, at least 7,802 people have been shot by police since 2015 – and of those, 1,651 are believed to have suffered from mental illness.
In the Burks case, the video footage released is from the point of view of a crisis intervention officer. It shows Burks, who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, wandering down a street in northwest Detroit around 5 a.m. on October 2. He had got his hands on a knife with a 3.5 inch blade. Her brother called the police for help.
The crisis worker begged Burks to put the knife down. He had his hand extended to Burks, per crisis intervention training, White said. And the officer said he was there to help, that Burks was fine.
Burks wouldn’t put the knife down. He said he wanted to rest. And then, within seconds, five officers shot and killed Burks “to stop the threat” after Burks allegedly rushed the officers, White said. The video is not really clear. It’s dark and Burks appears to be several yards from the officers. Looks like he started making rapid movements towards the officers. Then there were the gunshots, Porter’s arms can be seen waving in the air, and the video was cut short.
The Free Press showed the video to Keith Taylor, an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and a public safety professional for 26 years.
In general, he said, these types of situations occur daily in police departments across the country.
“It’s a constant problem in our country,” Taylor said. “It is really important that effective strategies are developed to save lives.”
Taylor said he was unaware of the CIT training Detroit police undergo, but said the goal of this type of training is to slow down interactions, appeal to the person in crisis, and solve the problem without resorting to force.
“I think the officers most likely reacted as they were trained to do. An on-scene supervisor helping to direct the officers’ actions,” he said.
“The question then becomes whether the officers are doing everything they are trained to do to resolve the situation without the use of force, are there opportunities or options for the officers to better handle the situation where the individual decides to attack the agents?”
But without watching all of the video footage, Taylor said, that question can’t be answered.
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