The Greens have used freedom of information laws to obtain exclusive NSW Police data they say shows an ‘undertrained and under-supported police force struggling to deal with people experiencing mental illness’.
Since the shooting death of Roni Levi on Bondi Beach in 1997 there have been 38 people shot and killed by police. Over half of these appear to have been facing significant mental health issues at the time of their deaths.
Remarkably, the NSW Police Force has not been tracking this data.
The Greens say that since 2007 there has been ‘a worrying upward trend in shooting deaths, including those of people with mental illness’.
This is despite an array of less lethal options like tasers and capsicum spray.
According to police data in 2016 ‘the NSW Police Force responded to 61,441 mental health related incidents across the state’.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said, this was likely to ‘significantly underestimate the number of encounters police have with people suffering mental illness’.
‘Over the last 20 years we’ve seen repeated police encounters with people struggling with mental illness that too often end in fatal shootings,’ he said.
‘Again and again the coroner has recommended better training for police and more rigorous compliance with mental health protocols, yet little seems to have changed.
‘What too often confronts police is a highly charged and dangerous situation that they are not adequately trained to deal with.’
Mr Shoebridge said that while there was no doubt that NSW police ‘often act with real bravery and the intent to save lives… this data shows that too often things go wrong.’
‘We know that in many cases the mere presence of police can escalate a situation, putting both police and the public at risk.
‘We need to start asking if the best way to respond to a person in severe mental distress is a heavily armed police officer.
‘It’s completely unfair to expect young police officers to respond daily to people in serious mental distress with only one day of training under their belt.’
Mr Shoebridge said the budget allocated to the Mental Health Intervention Team was only around $650,000 of the police’s total budget of $3,479,000,000.
He compared this to the $5 million allocated for additional bulletproof vests.
‘This is hard policy work but it starts with acknowledging that police aren’t the only, or the best, solution to mental health issues in the community,’ Mr Shoebridge said.