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Officer Who Killed Laquan McDonald Lacked Crisis Training

The officer who fatally shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald never received the Chicago Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team training, known as CIT. CIT training prepares officers to respond to mental health crisis calls, including those where a person is behaving erratically because of drug use.

Officer Jason Van Dyke, who is white, shot McDonald 16 times. He arrived at the scene after other officers had been following the African-American teen as he walked the streets carrying a knife and refusing to follow orders. An autopsy report showed that the a hallucinogenic drug PCP was found in McDonald's system, according to the Associated Press. Van Dyke’s attorney says the officer feared for his life. A video of that shooting is expected to be released by Wednesday this week. 

CIT trained officers learn alternatives to using force; the training is voluntary. Sgt. Lori Cooper, who runs the Chicago Police Department's CIT program, confirmed that Van Dyke had not received the training.  A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department would not comment.

University of Illinois Chicago researcher Amy Watson studies CIT. She says the training “could be helpful for dealing with someone who is agitated and not following commands, regardless of the reason for the agitation.” 

“We do know that sometimes people who are in crisis can escalate and can act in a way that looks impulsive. But we know if officers have additional training they may respond with a different tool,” said National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago’s Executive Director Alexa James. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Chicago, collaborates with CPD to run the trainings.

Under 20 percent of Chicago police officers have gone through the training. State funding for Crisis Intervention Training in Chicago has been on hold since the start of the budget impasse. Since then the number officers receiving training has drastically dropped. 

Katie O’Brien and Patrick Smith contributed to this report.

Shannon Heffernan is a reporter for WBEZ you can follow her @shannon_h

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