How police respond to "emotionally disturbed person" calls

Last year, Syracuse Police responded to more than 1,900 calls involving an "emotionally disturbed" person. Officers are trained on how to deal with the situations, which often need to be handled with extra care.

"The training starts in the academy, and continues once officers are on the force. They're taught about the various mental illnesses, they're taught about the symptoms and what to expect when they encounter someone in crisis," said Syracuse Deputy Chief David Barrette. "They are first taught de-escalation techniques. A lot of it involves talking to people, try to get them to deal with the symptoms of their illness."

Sunday, a call for an emotionally disturbed person came in. A mother dialed 911 because her son was acting out of control. When police arrived to the 600 block of Catherine Street, 49-year-old Ralph Ash threatened officers with a sword. He was first tased, but when that didn't work he was shot three times.

Ash is currently in critical condition at a local hospital. Police say he has a history of mental illness, and violence.

Syracuse Police Chief Frank Fowler says his officers acted appropriately given the unfortunate circumstances. But the response is always reviewed as the department looks for ways to improve their response.

"There seems to be a growing population of people with mental illness so it's important to be able to address that in the best way possible," said Deputy Chief Barrette. "We try to stay on top of it, and we just can't do too much with this topic."

This year, Syracuse Police have had five officer-involved shootings, in all of them the victim threatened police with a weapon, and a number of the incidents involved people suffering from mental illness.

"There are best practice models out there for police response to people in mental health crisis. My organization has certainly urged police to look into those best practice models," said Barrie Gewanter with the New York Civil Liberties Union. "It's my understanding that the Syracuse Police are."

Deputy Chief Barrette says the department is now working with mental health officials in the community and brainstorming the best ways to handle these calls so no one gets hurt.