Community, faith leaders hold vigil in wake of deadly police encounter

By Bianca Reyes | Fox 59

INDIANAPOLIS — Faith leaders are urging Mayor Joe Hogsett to fast track plans to implement a clinician-led crisis response team across the city.

The request comes just days after 39-year-old Herman Whitfield III died while in the custody of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department during a mental health crisis.

“No mother who has a child that’s dealing with mental health crisis should have to bury their child because they did what they felt was the right thing to do, by calling trained people to come to their aid,” said Shalmon Radford, senior pastor of Little Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

Pastor Radford was joined by nearly two dozen other community members and faith leaders for a vigil in Whitfield III’s honor. He said some members of his own family struggle with mental health issues, and he wants to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.

“This young man who died could be my brother, my nephew, could be my son,” said Pastor Radford. “I don’t want them to be in a situation where they have an episode, and the police are called, and something bad happens.”

Faith and community leaders are urging Mayor Joe Hogsett and IMPD Chief Randal Taylor to fast track plans for a network of clinician-led crisis teams, which both agreed to fund in next year’s budget.

“We, as part of the community, feel that enough is enough,” said Anthony Harvey, a volunteer organizer with Faith in Indiana, an organization for faith communities to work together for racial and economic equity in Indiana. “About a month or two ago this organization, Faith in Indiana, and the Black Church Coalition specifically came together and demanded from the mayor that he implement a clinician-led mental health pilot program.”

City officials already have a program called the Mobile Crisis Assistance Team, or MCAT, but Faith in Indiana wants the city to take it a step further.

An MCAT team consists of a police officer, paramedic and licensed mental health professional. Faith in Indiana’s demand is essentially to remove the police’s presence altogether, opting for a clinician-led mobile crisis team. They used as an example a program in Denver that has a two-person team of a medic and clinician.

“MCAT is a good program, it’s just not enough. At the end of the day, you’re still sending someone with a gun,” Harvey said. “MCAT is [also] understaffed quite frankly… and that’s just not enough for a city the size and the scale of Indianapolis.”

Officials with Faith in Indiana said the pilot program would start in Indianapolis as early as the next budget in 2023. However, Pastor Radford said the city cannot afford to go another day without the program.

In a statement from Mayor Joe Hogsett’s office, a spokesperson writes:

In response to community feedback and engagement, Mayor Hogsett pledged to implement a clinician-led response pilot to better understand the benefits and financial impacts of such a program. We are still identifying the source and size of that funding but remain committed to innovative, comprehensive solutions to support those experiencing mental health challenges.

From the start of his tenure, Mayor Hogsett has prioritized a mental health focus within public safety and our criminal justice reform work, whether through the construction of and programming within the Assessment and Intervention Center, the creation and expansion of Mobile Crisis Assistance Teams, and the funding of best-practice mental health response training for IMPD officers. 

Our thoughts are with the friends and family of the individual who died on Monday morning. The events only strengthen our resolve to continue working with the community on this critical issue. Further information regarding the incident and investigation will come from IMPD.

MARK BODE – SPOKESPERSON, MAYOR JOE HOGSETT’S OFFICE

“What we’ve been promised is a really good first step, but the MCAT program in our city needs to be expanded,” said Pastor Radford. “What’s going to happen between now and 2023? Promises are only as good as where they stack in the priority list. This program needs to be one of, if not the number one, priority of our mayor. Our citizens deserve it and the people who really need it aren’t able to voice it for themselves.”

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