Police form new squad for mental health calls

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The Phoenix Police Department has announced changes in the way its officers handle mental health cases. Mayor Greg Stanton called for police officials to examine the issue, following the controversial shooting death of a 50-year-old woman named Michelle Cusseaux in August.

Cusseaux was shot after walking toward officers, carrying a hammer over her head. The incident sparked an uproar and protests in the community.

Thursday, Police Chief Joseph Yahner announced new community outreach programs, which include a specialized squad, trained to deal with the mentally ill.

A sergeant will supervise six specially-trained officers on a new Crisis Intervention Squad.

"The Phoenix Police Department routinely serves approximately 4,000 court-ordered mental health pick-ups each year.

"This dedicated squad of officers specifically trained in how to respond safely and effectively to situations involving people with mental illnesses is a significant step toward serving our community in the safest and best manner possible," Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement.

"What we really want is this squad of highly-trained individuals to make these pick-ups. Highly trained in negotiation skills and in intervention," explained Commander TJ Martin.

"It's desperately needed," Jene Dawson told 3TV.

Dawson's 35-year-old son, Joshua, was shot and killed by officers in December. He suffered from schizophrenia, and was throwing rocks and knives at police.

"[Specially trained officers] would understand how to deal with these folks without pulling a gun out and blowing someone away because you're a little frightened. I applaud the chief," Dawson said.

The new squad will take several weeks to hire and train.

Also on Thursday, the police department announced an increase in the number of officers wearing body cameras.

In a statement, the police department said its number of cameras recently increased to 150, and officials are in the process of applying for grants to fund another 150 cameras.

Related: The family of a mentally ill woman shot and killed by a police officer will be filing a $7 million claim against the City of Phoenix.

Related: Family, friends celebrate life of mentally ill woman killed by police, demand change

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