The Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots networks, released the following statement in response to a police shooting involving a 38-year-old woman in Saugus, Massachusetts. The woman, Stephanie Gerardi, was shot and killed in her home by police responding to a call to the Saugus Police Department made by a family member who was concerned for Gerardi’s mental health.
Reports indicate that one of the three officers responding to the call fired on Gerardi, a mother of two, after believing she was brandishing a knife in a threatening manner. Reports also say that when the officers first arrived, the victim was unarmed and did not know why the police were present. Gerardi had a long history of mental illness which was known to police, having been hospitalized for mental health treatment several times throughout her life. The officer who fired the gun in the incident has been put on administrative leave, pending investigation, per department protocol.
“Mental illness is a serious medical issue that requires trauma-informed public health responses that police officers are not always equipped to provide,” said Ann Haaser, a volunteer with the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action. “The tragic death of Stephanie Gerardi is yet another example of avoidable police violence that underscores the need in our Commonwealth for workable alternatives to responding to calls to aid people in crisis — alternatives that involve lifesaving responses and professional care that maximize the safety of all involved and avoid tragic instances like this one.”
In the United States, approximately 240 million calls are made to 911 every year, a small fraction of which are for serious or violent crimes. The majority of those calls are instead related to, among other things, mental health issues. At the same time, police in America kill an average of 1,062 people and injure more than 50,000 others every year.
In order to help prevent future tragedies, Massachusetts legislators should pass legislation to encourage the development of alternative emergency response models that connect people in crisis with the services they truly need. A bill introduced in the Massachusetts General Court, H.2519 / S.1552, would create the Alternatives for Community Emergency Services (“ACES”) grant program to support alternative dispatch programs in Massachusetts. The bill would ensure the development of alternative responses to emergency and non-emergency situations that do not require a police presence. This would also help de-escalate volatile situations, ensure access to social services, free police to focus on preventing and solving serious crimes, minimize the risk of police use of force, and better protect the mental well-being of communities across the Commonwealth.