Anthony Benavidez, James Boyd, Claude Trivino, Valente Acosta-Bustillos - all of these people were in the midst of a mental health crisis when they were shot and killed during encounters with law enforcement officers in New Mexico. But a man in Taos last week who had armed himself with a shotgun while also suffering from a mental illness wasn't after members of the Taos County Sheriff's Office arrived at his home.
Instead, the Sheriff's Office succeeded in negotiating with the man, convincing him to surrender the weapon and be taken to Holy Cross Medical Center to get the help he needed. That included, reportedly, getting the medication he had not taken last Thursday (Sept. 30), when a day at home with family spiraled into a crisis that could have turned deadly.
The Sheriff's Office, supporting officers from New Mexico State Police and other first responders seemed to know that the encounter easily could have gone the other way. Blockades were set up on both ends of the road before officers approached the man's home. Undersheriff Steve Miera, who received the shotgun from the man after Sgt. Rick Romero completed negotiations, said the situation was tense, one that straddled the line between a mental health crisis that could be resolved peacefully and one that could have justified the use of force, Miera said.
House Bill 93, which was introduced at the New Mexico Legislature in 2011, requires all law enforcement officers to be trained on how to peacefully handle encounters with people who show signs of mental impairment, and yet there are still too many examples in recent years of deadly standoffs with this population that seem like they could have been avoided through other tactics.
So what made the difference in last week's scenario in Taos versus so many others that have taken place elsewhere?
Enforcement of that training, and perhaps more importantly, genuine buy-in at the local level to the idea that not all encounters with mentally ill individuals who pose a threat need to be resolved through violence.
Everyone at the Taos County Sheriff's Office has been through that training, and four sergeants there are certified to teach it.
Last week, that showed up in the form of exemplary law enforcement work, and that work deserves to be commended. It also shows the high value of continuing to provide law enforcement officers - here in New Mexico and throughout the country - with the tools they need to do their jobs properly, in all scenarios they might encounter on a shift.
If you or a loved one are in the midst of a mental health crisis, you can call the New Mexico Crisis and Access Line at 1-855-662-7474.
For more information on the New Mexico Department of Public Safety's training curriculum, visit bit.ly/3uKojWG.