Top prosecutor says LA County is neglecting homeless mentally ill

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is continuing to push for reforms after a report this week revealed one in three people shot by LAPD officers in 2015 showed signs of mental illness.

"Training is one part, but changing our attitudes so we stop neglecting those people who are mentally ill and on the street and likely to become justice involved and get them help before they end up dead," Lacey told KPCC Wednesday. 

She said the rise people with mental illness shot by LAPD officers —which jumped to 14 in 2015 from five the year prior —may simply be a result of better record-keeping and awareness of mental illness. But the numbers indicate Los Angeles has a problem. 

“It alerts us to need,” Lacey said.

Lacey announced her plans last summer to expand mental health training to every officer in the county —home to more than 40 separate law enforcement agencies. She’s working with the Criminal Justice Institute to line up mental health experts and train 500 officers from police departments across the county before the end of the year.

Still, some advocates are skeptical change is coming. 

“I want to believe in [Lacey], I really do,” said Suzette Shaw, a mental health advocate and resident of Skid Row. But she said, “the whole system has to be changed.”

"People have been displaced to the streets," Shaw said. "People are living out here with mental health issues —drastic numbers of people."

The LAPD is nationally recognized as a leader in training officers to interact with mentally ill. 

Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Tuesday officers are encountering more people "in crisis on the streets of Los Angeles everyday."

LAPD officers shot 38 people in 2015, an increase of nearly 50 percent, according to the department's annual use of force report released Tuesday.

An KPCC investigation into officer involved shootings from 2010 through 2014 found the officers across Los Angeles County shot 41 people showing signs of mental illness —likely an underrepresentation given mental health status is often private and police investigations are often sealed. 

Beck said in the unlikely event an officer results to lethal force, it's usually because people are carrying weapons.

"We view deadly force as a final, final, last option," Beck said.