The police in St. Petersburg, Fla., knew well that Jeffrey Haarsma had mental-health issues. Officers had been to the 55-year-old’s home at least 25 times in the year prior to an emergency call on Aug. 7, 2020. But the lone responding officer shot and killed Haarsma, who was unarmed, as he attacked her during an attempted arrest over a minor offense. While Pinellas County officials later decided the shooting was justified, they also concluded the call should have been handled as a mental-health issue rather than a criminal investigation.
Since that day, there have been nearly 2,000 fatal shootings by police officers in the line of duty. Roughly 1 in 5 involved a police response to someone showing signs of mental illness. It doesn’t have to be this way.