Over 200 meet to talk about recent police shootings

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The Phoenix Police Department is trying to prevent growing tensions with the community from getting out of control.

Protesters hit the streets over the weekend, in the wake of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and the shooting death of a mentally-ill woman here in Phoenix.

Sunday afternoon, officers held a special town hall meeting to address those concerns.

More than 200 people packed into the Memorial Hall at the Steele Indian School Park to participate in a discussion about police shootings.

The community forum was sparked by what's happening in Ferguson when protests and riots rang out after an unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police after a fight in Ferguson, Missouri.

"What you saw in Ferguson, Missouri can happen in any city in relation to the emotional outbreak that happened," Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said. "What you have to do to ensure those things don't happen is to have dialogue."

Garcia said police are trying to work with the community as they deal with strong emotions and mistrust.

"We had our own incident here," he said.

He's talking about when police shot and killed Michelle Cusseaux, a mentally ill woman who police said raised a hammer towards them when they were at her home trying to take her to a mental health facility.

"There has to be an expectation that when people interact, good or bad or indifferent, for any reason other than a firearm exchange that they go home alive," said South Mountain Justice of the Peace Cody Williams.

The shooting started a movement in Phoenix demanding for a different agency to investigate the shooting and more mental health training for officers.

"We're not perfect, and if we can improve that's what I want to hear today," Mayor Greg Stanton said.

"I'd like to see at least a two-hour class for every officer in the Phoenix Police Department that will start immediately, within two weeks. It's a class on mental health awareness," Garcia said.

He wants to implement more training by next year.

"Believe me, if I can do it faster,  I sure will," he said.

As for the investigation, Garcia announced the Department of Public Safety will take over and the county attorney will also review the case.

Garcia said he expects to host more town hall meetings to continue the dialogue and gain the community's trust.