Retired Phoenix police sergeant explains how officers approach sensitive calls

A former officer explains the approach that many departments take to sensitive calls regarding mental health.
Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 7:16 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- We’re getting more insight into a deadly police shooting Tuesday. Phoenix police reportedly shot and killed a man with a knife at a group home after a taser didn’t stop him. Officers say he was experiencing a mental health crisis and refused to follow their commands.

These are the kinds of calls former Phoenix Police Sgt. Darren Burch says he has seen many times. “Having spent nearly 30 years in law enforcement, I can’t count how many times I’ve gone through that kind of scenario,” he said.

Burch says officers are trained to deal with suicidal individuals, but depending on the department, they can also rely on trained medical personnel. Even then, Burch says it doesn’t always help. “When they have a lethal weapon, a gun, a knife, it changes the complete complexity of the situation where all the training in the world can’t help you if the situation goes to critical, which happens in the flash of a second,” he said.

In Tuesday’s case, police say the man pulled out a knife and started going toward the officers, and that’s when one officer opened fire. Burch says dealing with people in a crisis can be unpredictable. “Usually, when we get this call, they’re at the 11th hour in their life in terms of wanting to kill themselves; they’re committed sadly to that extent, so it’s a really daunting task,” he said.

The facility where the shooting happened is called Angel Heart Behavioral Health. We knocked on the door Wednesday to find out how the suspect could have gotten a knife, but no one answered.