Detroit Police Chief James White at a press conference
Detroit Police Chief James White updated reporters Friday on a fatal, police-involved shooting Thursday evening on the city’s west side. The female subject, who police said, had been armed with a bat, knife and a gun, was suffering from a mental health episode. DPD has been dealing with an influx of mental health crisis calls in recent weeks. (Screenshot from Detroit Police Department’s Facebook livestream)

Detroit’s police chief said the department is investigating a police-involved shooting that unfolded Thursday on the city’s west side after officers responded to a mental health crisis. 

Officers arrived at the residence after receiving two 911 calls from a woman stating that her daughter, who was schizophrenic, was wielding a bat and knife and had struck the caller’s grandson, who was bleeding. The subject, who had been suffering from an apparent mental health episode, also had access to a weapon, Detroit Police Chief James White said during a Friday news conference.

“She (the caller) further reported that she had been struck in the head by her daughter, and that she might have to kill her own daughter,” said White, noting the first call came in at 6:20 p.m. “She implored 911 to send someone immediately and to speed up the response.”

Shortly after arrival, five officers entered the home and three of them fired a total of four shots, White said. The woman succumbed to her injuries. 

The Detroit Police Department has not yet released the woman’s name, but according to White, the woman’s mother – who called 911 – said her daughter is diagnosed with schizophrenia and had already struck her grandson with a weapon. White told reporters Friday during a press conference that the department is investigating the incident and pulling bodycam footage and audio from the incident. 

“We have investigators on the ground right now,” White said. “We’re interviewing witnesses, talking to neighbors, we’re looking for witnesses, (and) pulling video.”

Police officials said that the three officers who fired shots are on administrative leave amid the investigation. All three officers, officials said, have been on Detroit’s force for under six years. 

This is the latest high profile instance of Detroit police using deadly force when responding to a mental health crisis call. In October, a Detroit police officer fatally shot 20-year-old Porter Burks, a Detroit resident diagnosed with schizophrenia who was experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death. 

White told BridgeDetroit in recent days that he doesn’t believe police officers should be responding to so many mental health calls but there aren’t enough resources to get Detroiters the help they need. 

“We have talked about it at nauseam,” he told reporters Friday. “We’ve lost mental health inpatient treatment facilities since the late 90s, and we see the results of having really no comprehensive treatment opportunity. Medicating someone and sending them out to the public isn’t the answer.” 

Recently, DPD had five separate calls involving a barricaded gunman in a single week. One incident, White has said, lasted for 24 hours. 

In the Thursday incident, White said, the subject’s mother had come to visit the grandchildren as she regularly did and knew that her daughter “was not right.” 

The subject, he said, allegedly punched her mother, then followed her outside with a gun in her hand. White said responding officers attempted to deescalate the situation and check on the children, still inside. But the woman was “agitated,” and shut the door. She was fatally shot during a struggle over the weapon, he said.

“Now certainly if the suspect was alone in the house, we would have had the opportunity to utilize the barricaded gunman process, which we have touted as very, very successful,” White said. “Whether the officers were acting based on the fact that the children are in the home and the urgent necessity to get the children from the home is currently being investigated.

“What we do know is when children are at risk, decisions to protect them are a top priority,” said White, noting the children and grandmother are “in good health.”

The department has been inundated with mental health calls over the past month. From Oct. 31 to Nov.  6 the department received 499 calls for mental health service. An uptick from the two weeks prior when DPD had received 399 and 452 mental health calls, respectively. 

Detroit City Councilwoman Gabriela Santiago-Romero said she’s having conversations with DPD about its role in responding to mental health emergencies. Santiago-Romero believes the lack of mental health resources in the city is the root problem not yet been addressed and Thursday’s shooting is another prime example of that problem. 

“I think for me, it just highlights the urgency to ensure that we have the proper resources in response to folks dealing with mental health illnesses,” Santiago-Romero told BridgeDetroit on Friday. 

Much like White, Santiago-Romero stressed that police are primarily tasked with this wave of mental health calls because the city doesn’t have long term treatment centers readily available. She said the “systemic failures” of mental health treatment in Detroit have caused the influx of calls for mental health service and multiple deaths. 

“It’s scary to think that we are sending officers to respond to them (those calls) when officers are trained to protect themselves if they feel as if they are in danger,” she said. “So why aren’t we addressing this issue from the very beginning?”

Bryce Huffman is a reporter for BridgeDetroit. He was formerly a reporter for Michigan Radio, and host of the podcast, Same Same Different.

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