The online petition asking for an independent investigation. Click here to sign.
The tragic death of Michael Conlon in Newton Highlands marks the second police shooting of a person suffering a mental health crisis within a two mile radius of my home in the past year, the first being the fatal shooting of Juston Root. As a mental health professional and as a resident of Newton, this causes me great concern for the care and protection provided to our community members, and highlights an overdue need for change.
With an understandable outpouring of support for all community members involved in the incident of January 5th in Newton Highlands, it is imperative that the pitfalls of these events not go unnoticed, in the interest of ensuring safety for each of our community members in the future. News sources have referred to “De-escalation techniques” used by police in reference to less-than-lethal force “to slow down the pace of the incident”, including a taser and a bean bag shotgun (NBC Boston, Wbur). This term is grossly misused in this context, as these techniques would have escalated the situation for the victim during a mental health crisis, specifically in assessing the level of threat to his safety. News sources also cite that a mental health clinician was present and responded to the call (CBS Boston). Although in attendance, it has now been confirmed that this clinician did not enter the building “due to safety concerns” (Boston Globe). This underlines that no mental health support was provided to the victim over the course of the
In addition, the timeline of this tragedy is also of note. According to District Attorney Marian Ryan, police received the 911 call pertaining to this event at 1:43pm. A taser, the second of the uses of force to subdue the victim, was fired at 2:01pm. By 2:11pm, the subsequently fatal shots had been fired by police. This timeline further demonstrates that insufficient attempts were made to deescalate the victim’s mental health crisis. In 28 minutes, this victim experienced a mental health crisis, exacerbated by the fear of a conflict with a neighbor he respected and admired (as evidenced by the released 911 call), fled from police to the perceived safety of his home, was ambushed by uniformed police, fired at, tased and fatally shot.
To be clear, I have no doubt that the police officers in question saw no alternative to the use of force in this instance and do not hold an illusion of malintent on the individual officers’ part. The lack of resources and alternatives in this instance further illustrates the need for restructuring of responses to mental health related 911 calls. To ensure the safety of Newton residents in the future, I suggest the following:
● Newton Police Department officers be equipped with body worn cameras. This will allow
for officers to review and revisit any interactions they have with civilians for the purpose
of improving future interactions.
● Extensive mental health training be provided to all members of the Newton Police
Department, including but not limited to Mental Health First Aid Training.
● Dispatchers receive mental health training and learn how to identify the signs and
symptoms of acute mental health crises in order to provide more accurate information to
● The Implementation of Community Crisis Intervention Training (CCIT) meetings to
promote communication and resource building between mental health agencies and law
enforcement in the Newton community.
● Mental Health Clinicians be equipped with necessary protective gear to be able to
adequately respond to crises in the moments where they are most needed, including in
moments of acute psychological distress.
● The implementation of a partnership between local psychiatric emergency services
teams (i.e. Riverside Emergency Services, Boston Emergency Services Team) and law
enforcement to ensure that clinicians are available for ride-alongs and interventions in
the context of mental health related 911 calls.
● Plain Clothes officers and Mental Health Clinicians be prioritized over uniformed police
officers to respond to mental health related 911 calls.
Ciara Wels, concerned resident of Newton.
Ciara Wels is a gypsy soul with big ideas and passion for change. Ciara is constantly trying to find new ways to effectively advocate for change, particularly in mental health and racial injustices and likes to use writing as a way to communicate ideas that might otherwise be disputed before they are understood.