Earlier today I spoke with reporter Lisa Suhay of the Christian Science Monitor. She was on deadline with a story about the 14-year-old New Jersey student who brought a fake gun to an elementary school in an attempt to get shot by police. 

As Ms. Suhay reported, “the Marlton, New Jersey, teenager brought a steel replica handgun to the playground outside the J. Harold Van Zant Elementary School in Evesham Township on Monday, forcing it to go into lockdown.”  The teen confessed to the arresting officers that he “hoped the threat would prompt officers to kill him.”

Suicide by Cop – and Learning to Deal with the Mentally Ill

Police officers across the country encounter “suicide by cop” scenarios every day. They also respond to many calls for service related to actions or behaviors by citizens with mental health issues. Luckily, the incident on Monday did not result in a fatality: the teen was charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats and related offenses – and taken to a mental health facility for evaluation.  In this case, the right outcome was achieved.

What the matter highlights – more than anything else – is the need to integrate courses in addressing the mentally ill into the broader police officer training curriculums at the federal state and local level.

Law Enforcement at the Tipping Point of a Sea Change

In 2016 and beyond, we are going to see a much stronger focus on training areas like this as well as many further improvements to law enforcement practices.  I am very optimistic about the fact that law enforcement in the United States stands at the threshold of very significant change. One by one, professional police departments across the nation are developing a new vision of policing that embodies community trust, fairness and transparency.

I see this as a defining moment in our generation – the most promising moment for policing in a decade. We’re going to see a much stronger focus on procedural justice – on the concept of fair and impartial policing. It will take time – and much training – but as the arresting officers in New Jersey demonstrated on Monday, the police we entrust to protect us and our communities will be much more likely to understand and embrace the philosophy of sanctity of life, rather than simply following the use of force continuum.