Lost Legacy?

Gidone Busch's Death Unlikely to Bring NYPD Policy Change

Ultimately, police encircled Busch out on the street. The patrol guide said then, as it does now, that police can shoot when an EDP moves toward them with an object in his hand. "When a person is encircled, there is nowhere for them to move without moving toward someone," says Masters.

Doris Busch Boskey can recall every fact of her son's shooting case as if it were on electronic file in her brain. She continually ponders: "What would have happened if they had just waited?" Boskey lived in Long Island and received no call from police. "I heard it on the news at 10 o'clock," she recalled in a phone interview last week.

There is no guarantee that the NYPD has changed its stance on using nonlethal but dangerous weapons against the mentally ill. Once inside Busch's apartment, police shot a half-ounce of pepper spray in his eyes, despite two recommendations by the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) not to use Mace or other sprays on the mentally ill. Acorn says there are "reams" of evidence that show that Mace worsens agitated states.

Since the Busch case, it has been hard to determine just how bad things are for the mentally ill in their dealings with police. According to the NYPD Public Information Office, the department keeps no record of its encounters with EDPs or the outcomes of their arrests. Even the CCRB doesn't count the number of complaints filed by the mentally ill.

"We get people saying, 'An officer put a transmitter in my head.' We investigate these complaints to the extent that we can," says CCRB spokesman Ray Patterson. The group tracks the numbers of complaints each year, broken down by many categories, including race and neighborhood.

For now, the staggering number of the mentally ill in prisons is the only yardstick. Human Rights Watch released a report in October estimating that one in six prisoners is mentally ill. Activists warn that Rikers Island has become a default mental health facility. The Human Rights Watch report backs up evidence that those with mental illness are picked up for minor offenses, often when police don't know what else to do with them, and then kept in the system when they inevitably break prison rules. The organization is calling on Congress to enact legislation that would offer federal funds for programs to prevent the mentally ill from landing in prison and offer better services to those who are incarcerated.

Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit was filed against the state of New York in October, charging that the mentally ill are unfairly incarcerated for petty crimes and technical violations while they wait for months to receive placement in a tiny number of programs the state offers them.

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