According to the Rochester police union, the officers who pepper-sprayed and handcuffed a nine-year-old had no choice but to do so.
A nine-year-old girl in Rochester, New York, has been handcuffed and pepper-sprayed, drawing condemnation from the public and justifications from police officials.
Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson said that the girl had been suffering from a serious mental health emergency, reportedly threatening to take her own life and that of her mother. Rochester police also noted that they were “required” to use handcuffs and the pepper spray “for her own safety.”
The footage has reaped condemnation world-wide, but especially from the city council members of Rochester, who have criticised the use of force, when the situation clearly called for mental health professionals. Both officers involved in the arrest have been suspended, with local police chief Cynthia Herriott-Sullivan since admitting that the police had acted excessively.
“I’m not going to stand here and tell you that for a nine-year-old to have to be pepper-sprayed is OK…it’s not.”
The president of the local police union, Mike Mazzeo had a different take, claiming that the actions were just, due to a “lack of resources” the officers had. Mazzeo also pointed out that the incident was “not about lack of compassion or empathy,” noting that the officers were “dealing with a very difficult situation.”
As CNN noted, the incident has “has troubling similarities to the death of Daniel Prude, a Black man who died in March after Rochester police pinned him to the ground and placed a hood over his head as he experienced a mental health crisis. The police body camera footage of that incident, released in August after city officials intentionally delayed its release, led to protests over the police’s treatment of Black people and those experiencing mental health crises. Mayor Lovely Warren later fired the police chief, saying there was a ‘pervasive problem’ in the police department.”
However, while the officers felt like they had no choice, a European model has already proved that they certainly do.
Over in Sweden, 1,500 suicides and 15,000 suicide attempts are reported on a yearly basis. In response, Stockholm’s health care services have introduced the Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PAM) – which is an ambulance dedicated solely to mental health care. While the PAM looks like the conventional ambulance on the outside, on the inside, comfortable seats have replaced stretchers, and the bright lights have been altered for a warmer glow.
The team that operates the PAM includes two mental health nurses and one paramedic. In Sweden, the police traditionally handled cases such as those. By having trained professionals handling those cases, the benefits are twofold, a) the level of care is increased and b) the stigmatisation of those suffering from mental health conditions is reduced.
During its first year of operation, PAM was requested 1,580 times and had 1,254 cases attended to. That’s an average of 4.3 requests and 3.4 cases per day. 1,036 individuals of all ages were attended to, and 96 of them had contact more than once. One-third of all attended cases resulted in no further action after a psychiatric assessment and sometimes crisis intervention had been made on site.
It is a scheme that is widely believed in, offering the right response to such delicate emergencies. PAM plans to continue operating in Stockholm after a successful trial, according to Fredrik Bengtsson, Head of Mental Health Emergency at Sabbatsberg Hospital. “I can’t see any reason as to why the project shouldn’t continue,” Bengtsson told VICE Sweden. “It has been considered a huge success by police, nurses, healthcare officials, as well as by the patients.”