Zachary Tumin, the NYPD bigwig in charge of beefing up the NYPD’s social media presence, gave us all a lesson about how to NOT talk about mental illness when he tweeted this on Monday morning:

The ignorant tweet further stigmatizes the mentally ill and assumes that everyone exhibiting signs of psychosis is unmedicated and wants to be shot. It’s true that suicide-by-cop is a known phenomenon, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the stats on it are murky:

A 1998 FBI study looking at 240 cases over a 15-year period found that 16 percent of people shot by police had possible suicidal motivations.

A study published in the Journal of Forensic Studies in 2009, which looked at more than 700 shootings throughout North America, determined that 36 percent of them were suicides, while an additional 5 percent featured subjects who were suicidal during the encounter.

Vivian Lord, a UNC professor and author of Suicide by Cop: Victims on Both Sides of the Badge, and Rebecca Stincelli, a former crisis interventionist for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and author of a separate book on the same phenomenon, both estimate that “12 to 15 percent of all police killings nationwide are provoked for the sake of suicide.”

So it’s a small percentage of mentally ill people who are “w[a]lking into police bullets.” According to a report by the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriff’s Association, there are “suggestions” that “many” of those shot by police in a justifiable homicide “were not taking their medications.” Suggestions are not hard data.

What’s worse about Tumin’s comment is that he wasn’t even referring to an obvious suicide-by-cop situation. He was referring to this article about police who are called in to help mentally ill people, asked to de-escalate the situation, and resort to extreme force anyway. For example, Miami Gardens woman Catherine Daniels called police in for reinforcement while her son suffered a psychotic episode. They fatally shot her son:

Daniels locked herself inside the house and called the police to help get him back to the hospital, just as she did the previous week. She says that she told police about her son’s mental illnesses, and that he took medication.

When police arrived at the scene, a scuffle broke out. A few moments later, Hall was shot twice in the middle of his own street—once in the arm and a fatal shot to the chest. As he lay struggling on the concrete, police handcuffed him. He was pronounced dead shortly after.

“Why did they take my child’s life when I called for help?” Daniels asked local government officials at a Miami Gardens City Commission meeting on Wednesday, fighting through tears. “I just want answers,” she said.

Ironically, the tweet comes just when the NYPD is being trained on how to better serve the community and learn how to negotiate in volatile situations. And this is one of the guys charged with improving the NYPD’s communication strategy…eek.

(Photo: Jeremy Marshall)