Albuquerque mayor cites mental illness in police shootings

Demonstrators gather in front of Albuquerque police headquarters Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 to protest a police shooting that happened Tuesday that left a suspect dead. Albuquerque police shot and killed a suspect Tuesday they say was dressed in body armor and pulled a gun on them after a foot chase, an incident that follows a string of shootings that have prompted public protests, federal scrutiny and even charges from a local prosecutor. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Albuquerque’s mayor took the airwaves to answer questions about officer-involved shootings after a trying week for the city’s police force, calling on lawmakers to take up legislation that could help reduce police encounters with dangerous mentally ill residents.
Mayor Richard Berry said Friday that in contrast to some other U.S. cities, he didn’t believe there were any links between race and the more than 40 police shootings since 2010 in New Mexico’s largest city.
“But we’ve had a mental health component,” Berry said during an interview with KKOB-AM.
His comment about race referred to the Ferguson, Missouri, police shooting of a young black teenager and the Staten Island, New York, choking death of a Black suspect. Those deaths sparked protests nationwide, with critics saying they resulted from troubled relationships between police departments and black and Latino residents.
Around half of those shot by Albuquerque police in the past five years were Hispanic or Black, according to records.
However, the city’s biggest demonstrations came after the March shooting of James Boyd, a 38-old-year White homeless man who authorities say suffered from schizophrenia.
Two officers face murder charges in his death.
In April, the U.S. Justice Department released a harsh report that faulted Albuquerque police for using excessive force, especially in cases involving mentally ill suspects. The city and Justice Department recently signed an agreement to overhaul the police department.
But Berry said more reforms are needed for the mentally ill. He has asked state lawmakers to consider a bill that would force some residents with severe mental illness to receive court-ordered outpatient treatment.
“We need some help,” Berry said.
Under a bill proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, judges would be allowed to order patients to take medication and undergo treatment if they are deemed a danger to themselves and their community. Papen said it’s a version of Kendra’s law in New York.
That measure was named after 32-year-old Kendra Webdale, who was pushed in front of a subway train in 1999 by a man with untreated schizophrenia.
Berry’s comments came days after two Albuquerque officers shot and killed a body-armor wearing man in a shootout.
Police said officers Michael Oates and Matthew Fisher shot and killed John Edward Okeefe, 34, following a foot chase that ended with an exchange of gunfire.
Okeefe previously was arrested for narcotics charges and armed robbery in Missouri, authorities said.
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