February 03, 2015
WSPA has written an excellent article and accompanying video on how mental health spending cuts has increased police shootings in South Carolina.
John Pepper was killed by an Anderson County deputy in December 2014. 9-1-1 calls made by Pepper show he was armed, angry and suicidal.
His death was the twelfth officer involved shooting in the Upstate that year and mental health experts said it was one of several that could have been prevented.
Between 2009 and 2014, Upstate officer involved shootings shot up. Statistics from the SC State Law Enforcement Division show three such shootings in 2009. The same statistics show Upstate officers were involved in 16 shootings in 2011, 13 in 2012, 11 in 2013 and 12 in 2014.
The I-Team reviewed the state statistics, police reports, 911 calls and witness statements looking for patterns in the shootings that could explain the increase including race, location and indeidentifyingracteristics of the suspects shot.
Like John Pepper, most of the people shot by law enforcement were white. In fact, all 12 of the people shot in the Upstate in 2014 were white.
Based on the most recent population numbers, the place where officer involved shootings were most likely was Anderson County where the incidents happen at nearly twice the rate of Greenville, Spartanburg or Cherokee Counties.
One trait that stood out from the data, officers were called again and again into armed confrontations with someone suffering from mental illness.
Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller said his officers encounter mental illness daily.
“I think you’d see some decrease in the numbers if we could properly treat the people with mental disease in our community,” Mueller said.
Mueller said his deputies might have two or more calls in a single day to take a mentally ill patient to the hospital. He said funding cuts to mental health services leave his officers as the first line of communication with some patients.
“When you see the mental illness that exists and the lack of funding at the state level, it’s really scary, and it’s really scary that our officers are dealing with those people,” Mueller said.