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Investigation Looks Into How San Jose, California Police Handle People In A Mental Health Crisis

Bay Area news outlet Mercury News highlighted a concerning trend in San Jose, California’s police departments earlier this month - a significant number of people who face beatings, taser use, shootings, or other forms of violence are either mentally ill or intoxicated. The San Jose Police Department has made efforts to train its officers in crisis intervention, requiring specialized training since 2017. Nevertheless, the use of force, especially against the mentally impaired, has not decreased significantly, and the department struggles to find alternatives to law enforcement responses in such situations.

The investigative report used Thompson “Tommy” Nguyen as an example. Twice within two months, Nguyen, who was fragile and struggling with self-destructive tendencies, encountered San Jose police officers trained to handle individuals in a mental health crisis. The first encounter raised concerns for Nguyen's family, who worried about his safety and sent the officers away. However, in the second encounter, police used lethal force, resulting in his death.

Taking place in January 2018, officers responded to urgent calls about an armed man near a San Jose power plant. Nguyen's erratic behavior, including not responding to commands and pleading with the officers to "shoot me, kill me," signaled his fragile mental state. Despite recognizing his condition, the officers failed to de-escalate the situation and resorted to lethal force when Nguyen approached them with an ax and a metal pipe.

An investigative analysis of police records from 2014 to 2021 revealed that a substantial majority of those seriously injured or killed by police in San Jose had mental health issues or were intoxicated. This trend persists despite the increased recognition of mental health issues and intoxication by police officers. In some cases, the confrontations initiated by officers themselves, often for minor infractions, spiraled into violent incidents. The report also showed that mentally impaired individuals are overwhelmingly the victims of almost every type of police force.

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