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'It's a paranoia on both sides:' Mental health professional talks about cycle of police shootings

Posted at 10:16 PM, Feb 04, 2020

A local psychological consultant says the increased number of officer-involved shootings stems from a heightened sense of fear.

Dr. Kweku Ramel Smith says there is "paranoia on both sides." Much of it because of the high profile shootings in the community that make the news. He says it's hard to ignore.

"We tell people to compartmentalize and say hey it's going to be different tomorrow... but you can't do that and we have to be realistic," says Smith.

Smith will be on a panel on community-police relations brought together by Governor Tony Evers next month. He says all sides need to realize there is a cause and effect.

"We also need to have more concerted effort dealing with mental wellness. Making sure people understand the danger it is to be a police officer," said Smith. "But also for our constituents, for our regular everyday citizens. What's the proper way to conduct yourself. But what becomes difficult is if you conduct yourself properly and then there's still negative ramifications, and then you say what's the use."

Smith works with both police officers and community members and acknowledges that interactions with police officers have changed.

"They [officers] say this is not how it was before. Before we were going out on a routine traffic stop. Now I have to put my hand on my gun just in case. Before that person, that's a citizen says I didn't do anything I'm not sure why I am being pulled over. Now they feel that their life is at threat because they have a hand on a lethal weapon."

The Wisconsin Professional Police Association says officer-involved shootings were up 28% in 2019 to 32 total. 18 were fatal.

The Milwaukee Police Department has mental health experts on staff, a Chaplain program, and peer support to help officers on the job. We asked them to take part in our story but they did not return our request.