An cellphone video that recorded a handful of San Francisco police officers detaining a man with a prosthetic leg on Market Street in early August has garnered media coverage and criticism as an alleged act of overly aggressive policing.
But police officials say the reaction mischaracterizes what officers were doing. And health officials say it’s just one more of many mental health calls local police must deal with.
The video, posted on the website Medium along with a minute by minute retelling of the Aug. 4 incident by Chaédria LaBouvier, was not pretty, according to police representatives. Still, police said such responses are common, but not excessive, in a city with a big homeless and mentally ill population.
“In this case, the cops were overly soft on the guy,” said Gary Delagnes, a representative of the San Francisco Police Officers Association. “Obviously she cherry-picked what she wanted to show … The fact that he has a prosthetic leg means nothing.”
Police, says Delagnes, are trained to use the level of force appropriate to control the situation. At times the public sees the end of an incident and don’t understand what happened before they arrived on the scene.
“Unfortunately, with the advent of cameras and with what cops are going through in this country right now, every single incident is going to be overscrutinized” by people who don’t understand police work or the situation at hand, he said.
The 42-year-old man had been waving a pair of sticks around UN Plaza when someone called police. When they arrived and tried to talk to the man, he ran into traffic and said he didn’t care if he got hit, said police. The officers decided the man was endangering himself and the public, so they tried to cuff him. What followed was a short struggle on the ground — involving three to five officers — to detain the man who was kicking and trying to bite them. During the struggle, the man’s pants came off and his prosthetic leg was dislodged.
The man was sent to a local hospital for mental health evaluation, which is a common occurrence in The City. According to the San Francisco Public Health Department The City’s general hospital — the only psychiatric emergency service in The City — has had 7,200 mental health emergency visits logged already this year. About 80 percent are there for 5150 — a mandatory 72-hour mental evaluation hold.
With so many such calls, in recent years San Francisco has started sending its officers to crisis intervention training. Thus far, there are 376 crisis-response-trained officers and starting with the latest graduated academy class, all new recruits will receive such training.
The incident, which took place in an open air drug market, is under investigation.
Jonathan Baarde, the site manager for the Art Institute of California facility on UN Plaza, said he calls the plaza the “hot zone” since so much craziness goes on there.
“A lot of crazy people come into the store,” said Annie Contreras, who works across the street at the Dollar Store. “Crazy people do strange things.”