“We can do better.”
That was what New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said after an officer shot and killed a 66-year-old mentally disturbed woman in the Bronx on Tuesday night — and some NYPD critics are hailing his words as a sign of change in country’s largest police department.
“What is clear in this one instance, we failed,” O’Neill said at a news conference on Wednesday. “We do have policies and procedures for handling emotionally disturbed people and it looks like these procedures weren’t followed.”
O’Neill, who started his career as a NYPD patrolman in 1983, succeeded Bill Bratton last month promising to rebuild trust between his department and the community.
Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist and long-time critic of New York’s policing practices, was among those who praised O’Neill’s response. Sharpton described the incident as “atrocious,” but added that O’Neill’s comments were “good and responsible,” and should be the beginning of “systemic change.” Shaun King, a civil rights activist, wrote in a column for the New York Daily News that he was “encouraged” by O’Neill’s response.
Police say they received a 911 call around 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening, reporting a woman who was in a Bronx apartment building’s hallway, armed with scissors. Five NYPD officers and a patrol sergeant responded to the scene, and found Danner in her apartment, holding a pair of scissors, Assistant Chief Larry Nikunen said on Wednesday.
Sgt. Hugh Barry, an eight-year veteran of the force, according to ABC7, persuaded Danner to put down the scissors, Nikunen said. Danner then grabbed a baseball bat, and swung it towards the sergeant. “He fired two shots from his service revolver, striking her in the torso,” Nikunen said. “The sergeant was armed with a taser, it was not deployed, and the reason it was not deployed will be part of the investigation and review.”
The incident comes as increased attention is being paid to how police respond to situations involving mentally disturbed individuals. A report by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, shone light on this particular problem earlier this year, and found that almost half of people who die during encounters with police in the U.S. have some form of disability.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was also at Wednesday’s news conference, said that Danner was diagnosed with schizophrenia and that 911 had been dispatched to her apartment in the past.
“Something went horribly wrong here,” de Blasio said, according to ABC7. “It’s quite clear our officers are supposed to use deadly force only when faced with a dire situation and it’s very hard for any of us to see that that standard was met here.”
Barry, who shot and killed Danner, has since been placed on modified duty.