Boise Police Department
News Release

Michael F. Masterson
Chief of Police


Contact: Lynn Hightower
Communications Director
570-6180

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Suicide Prevention: Police Chief, Ombudsman Call for Greater Awareness, More Resources

Boise, Dec. 12, 2012 - Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson and Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy today announced a new and strengthened effort to raise awareness of suicide prevention in our community, a serious issue facing hundreds of local families.

"The loss of a life is an important issue for us. We're paid to keep people safe, to represent them, not to end their lives," Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson said today at a news media briefing.

Recent developments, including the Ombudsman’s final report regarding the May 31, 2012 shooting involving Boise Police and a man in emotional crisis, Idaho’s new suicide prevention hotline, and a new coordinated community response being led by the Chief and the Ombudsman on behalf of the City of Boise combine to highlight the seriousness of mental health crises and the urgent need for community solutions.

In the report, released yesterday, Boise’s Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy finds the involved officer’s use of deadly force was in defense of a second officer’s life. Murphy finds that, based on the Subject’s statements and actions, it was reasonable for the officer to believe that his partner was in immediate danger of death or serious bodily harm. Murphy writes that evidence shows the Subject surprised the two officers while holding a gun, refused to drop it, instead raised it up and said to the officers “shoot me” or “kill me” and moved in the direction of the officers before the shot was fired. The Ombudsman concluded that the officer’s use of deadly force was authorized by and consistent with the BPD use of force policy. See Boise Police news releases dated June 1 and August 15, 2012.

In his report, Murphy writes of the involved officer, Officer #1, “Officer #1, who had the best cover, was faced with an anguishing decision. Should he give the Subject more time to drop the gun and end the situation peacefully, or should he fire his rifle and end the immediate deadly threat to Officer #2 who was so vulnerable in the front yard? Further delay by Officer #1 would give the Subject more opportunity to shoot Officer #2; firing his rifle right then might result in the death of the Subject.”

To read Murphys full report, go to: http://www.boiseombudsman.org/

Boise Police Chief Michael Masterson responded with the following;

I appreciate the Ombudsman’s careful analysis of this very tragic incident. This situation is one every police officer hopes and prays they never have to experience. Yet, increasingly officers are responding to calls of people in emotional and mental health crisis. Boise Police have responded to more than 12,000 calls involving potentially suicidal individuals in just the last two years. The vast majority end peacefully. This case is a painful exception. Yet I fear all these cases  are a disturbing symptom of a growing societal problem; the increasing number of individuals facing emotional and mental crisis.  The problem poses a challenge to each of us; what can we do.

As the Ombudsman notes, these officers were confronted, feared for their safety, and the officer fired in what he understandably believed was the necessary and immediate defense of his life and that of his fellow officer. Our officers, our neighbors and our family members are in danger when a personal crisis reaches this extreme. Our officers will continue to respond to calls for help. However, providing help before an individual descends into crisis must be our priority. Providing that help demands a greater awareness and a higher level of commitment from families, non-profits and government. We all have a common goal; healthy individuals, healthy families and healthy communities.

The investigations are over. But this incident will leave lasting scars. I pray time will heal them, and that we use this time to dedicate ourselves to learning how to better recognize and get help for those in need.

At a briefing with local media this morning, Chief Masterson and Murphy urged citizens to pay attention to the emotional and mental health of family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors, and to call Idaho’s new Suicide Hotline:1-800-273-TALKfor advice and referrals on how to help.

Chief Masterson and Murphy also announced their strengthened effort at a coordinated community response to provide additional solutions. Representing Boise City, the Chief and the Ombudsman are gathering leaders of local non-profit, government, medical and mental health providers together to coordinate resources and improve communication with the goal of further raising awareness and suicide prevention options for those in need.

Below are the comments made today by the Boise Community Ombudsman and Boise’s Chief of Police.

Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy:

Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen.  My name is Pierce Murphy and I am the Police Ombudsman for the City of Boise.  As ombudsman, I am responsible for providing independent oversight of the Boise Police Department on behalf of the citizens of our City.  In addition to investigating the use of deadly force by BPD officers and complaints from members of the community, I have the responsibility to make policy and training recommendations to improve the professionalism, safety, effectiveness, and accountability of policing in Boise.

Since being appointed ombudsman in 1999, it has been my sad duty to investigate 18 incidents in which someone either died or was injured when Boise Police officers fired their guns in the line of duty. 

I can tell you from personal experience that every officer-involved shooting, especially those that result in a death, has a profound and lasting impact on everyone involved.  I have spent time with the families and friends of those who died and I know the life-long grief they must bear.  I also see how deeply this affects the involved officers, none of whom wanted to take another person’s life.  Families, friends, and officers alike have expressed the heartfelt wish that something could have been done to avoid the confrontation in the first place.

More than half of these 18 officer-involved shootings involved a person who was experiencing some form of emotional or mental health crisis.  Along with alcohol and drugs, a common factor at the root of many of these shootings was evidence of suicidal thoughts or intentions on the part of the person who was shot by the police.

That is why I recommended in 2000 that the Boise Police Department consider implementing the Crisis Intervention Team Model.  In 2006, following five separate officer-involved shootings in the previous two years, I repeated this recommendation.  To their credit, Chief Masterson and the Boise Police Department began implementing the Crisis Intervention Team approach shortly thereafter.  Those involved in implementing the Boise Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team have done a tremendous job building it from the ground up.  Nonetheless, it remains a work in process.

It should come as no surprise that suicide is a growing problem in our community, as it is in most communities throughout our state.  Just yesterday, I released my report regarding last summer’s officer-involved shooting in Boise, an incident that clearly was the result of someone who was experiencing suicidal thoughts and motivations. 

An increasing number of calls for police service, here in Boise and elsewhere throughout our valley, involve someone who is either suicidal or experiencing a crisis that places themselves or others at great risk.  I am convinced that we need to do more to prevent suicide and to get people in crisis the help they need long before the police need to be called.  We need more affordable and available treatment options to which people can be referred.  If the police are called to intervene, the responding officers should have the best tools, tactics, and training we can possibly give them.  The goal, if at all possible, must be to safely de-escalate the situation and bring it to a peaceful resolution. 

For these reasons, I have decided to conduct a review of the Boise Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team program and related tactics and tools.  In addition to gaining a complete understanding of how the program operates today, I will be looking at model programs and best practices in other jurisdictions to understand what more can be done in Boise to improve police response to persons in crisis.  It is my intention to undertake this study in collaboration with the Boise Police Department and its own Crisis Intervention Team experts.  The goal will be to make this highly effective model work even better for our community.  In particular, I would like to see what can be done to increase the number of fully trained Crisis Intervention Team officers so that at least one will be on duty and available to respond to a crisis call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

In addition, Chief Masterson and I have initiated a project that will convene experts on suicide prevention, intervention, and treatment in what is called a Coordinated Community Response.  This is a way to engage agencies and stakeholders to solve complex, community-wide problems.  The approach was first developed in Duluth, Minnesota, to solve a pervasive problem of domestic violence. For over a year now, Chief Masterson and I have been using this same methodology to improve the services available for military personnel, veterans, and their families, especially those who are in crisis or great need. 

Last month, in an effort to apply the Coordinated Community Response approach to suicide prevention, Chief Masterson and I invited representatives from local, county and state government, as well as non-profits and medical providers to begin a conversation about how we can reduce the number of suicides and suicide attempts in our community.  We will continue to convene this group and hopefully add new members in the weeks and months ahead.  Our goal is to make Boise the most livable city in the country by encouraging the implementation and expansion of best practices to solve this serious community problem.  Through timely and effective assistance and intervention long before things reach a crisis point, we hope to reduce the number of times the police are called because someone is out of control or threatening suicide. 

Working together, we look forward to a time when every person contemplating suicide receives the life-saving assistance they need.

Thank you very much.

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The following photos were taken during today's news media briefing. They are photos of Chief Masterson, Ombudsman Murphy, and of Nina Leary, a Boise woman who says intervention helped save her life during a suicide attempt years ago. Ms. Leary now volunteers for the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline.

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