Police, Community Work Together to De-Escalate Situation in North Sacramento

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SACRAMENTO -- Police rush to Sacramento's Norwood Avenue -- alerted that a man may be beating someone held hostage in the back of his car.

Is it the right response for one possible suspect?

"Yeah, certainly," said Officer Matt McPhail.

"In this incident there was some additional information that there was a destructive device in the car, so we would call in some additional assets, maybe even the bomb squad," he said.

The video McPhail is evaluating is from a network of citizens who responded to the scene as well -- cell phone cameras rolling.

The knowledge of that man suffering some kind of mental breakdown -- offered up at a critical time -- helped turn a volatile situation into one in which a man off his medications was able to get to psychiatric treatment when he needed it.

In the citizen video you can hear the woman filming, Debra Cummings, referencing the "community mothers."

The mothers are part of a rapid response team tapped by Black Lives Matter Sacramento to help avoid the kind of past situations they feel have led to the mistreatment and death of unarmed black men at the hands of police.

"It's a beautiful thing. Only thing I'm unhappy about is it shouldn't take the community to de-escalate a situation. The police should be doing that on their own," said Tanya Faison with Sacramento's BLM group.

"Without the community there, we don't know if that man would still be alive," she said.

While community members take issue with the number of officers who turned out for the Friday incident and how many guns were drawn, the department says you have to consider the initial call.

"Tinted windows, they couldn't see directly in. Not knowing if the subject was armed or not, they couldn't see into the car. They gave him some commands. He did not follow their commands and began making threats," said Sacramento Officer Linda Matthew.

The man's fiance, whose parents are both police officers, was able to share with those on site that he was unmedicated and thrashing about alone -- not hurting anyone in his car.

"If people in the community have information about an unfolding event, whether personal knowledge about someone who's undergoing a crisis, certainly if they share that information with us, that helps guide us to a favorable outcome," said McPhail.

He does caution that crowds recording a police interaction or trying to intervene in one may egg on some people in crisis to "perform" for that audience.

"Currently our officers are getting an additional 40 hours of training on mental health issues right now, learning how to recognize someone who's possibly having a mental health episode," said Matthew.

That training also emphasizes techniques that can diffuse such situations.

"The community got the police to take their guns down and instead use Tasers if necessary, so the community is who de-escalated that situation," maintains Faison.

Still, in at least one crisis in Sacramento involving two groups that have at times found themselves aggressively at odds, both can celebrate a victory.