In mental health crisis, she died outside her home shot 21x by Albuquerque's police

Her family says a police alternative could have saved her - the start of a non-law enforcement crisis team has hit many speed bumps. Friday long read from New Mexico In Depth

Forced to call law enforcement for assistance with a family member who struggled with serious mental health issues, the first time they got a trained crisis team, but the second time Elisha Lucero ‘s family called and typical deputies responded - less than half an hour later and 21 shots, she died on the street in front of her home. This in depth feature looks at Albuquerque, New Mexico’s efforts to implement a mental health crisis response team alternative to police. Here are some outtakes. Read the whole thing here.

Maestas acknowledged that challenges of this complexity can’t likely be resolved at a stroke, but she believes the general direction to take is clear: “We would like to see police officers aren’t the ones responding to these calls anymore.” Their skillset just isn’t right for people experiencing these types of problems, she said. “You can’t have a foot doctor doing a brain surgery.” 

In an interview with New Mexico In Depth, Keller underscored the scale of his ambitions: “We are trying to fundamentally change how we respond to 911.” According to Albuquerque’s Chief Administrative Officer Sarita Nair, one of the primary goals is to reduce the risk of harm that police can introduce to situations where they are not needed. 

But in the months since Keller’s first announcement, and despite a lengthy community listening process, major questions about the department remain unanswered. In mid-October when city councilors finalized a budget, they pared back the mayor’s proposed new agency to just a handful of new positions. 

With an increasing recognition of these limitations, even police officers have warmed to the idea of unarmed emergency responders. “I’ve been on a ton of calls where I shouldn’t have been there,” said Matt Dietzel, a lieutenant in the unit that oversees many of the Albuquerque Police Department’s behavioral health activities. “We’re trained to go after criminals and people who are trying to hurt us as a result of wanting to escape, but then you have these mental health calls where it’s hard to turn off that self-preservation-fear.”


In the 1990s, APD began offering officers Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) — and when the federal consent decree mandated it for everyone, the department rolled out an “Enhanced” curriculum for those who wanted further training. In 2005 the department established Crisis Outreach and Support Teams (COAST), a small staff of unarmed case managers who focus on a subset of mentally ill people who come into repeated contact with police and try to connect them with social services that will prevent future brushes with law enforcement. Since 2017, 911 calls about people on the ground or unconscious (so-called “down-and-outs”) have been diverted to the fire department or transit security officers in lieu of police. And beginning in March 2018, both Albuquerque and Bernalillo County rolled out Mobile Crisis Teams (MCT) that pair law enforcement officers with licensed clinical social workers employed by the non-profit HopeWorks. 

For all the good done by this patchwork of efforts, it did not add up to systematic change nor substantially improve outcomes.


Albuquerque has to recognize the limits of what even ambitious changes in policing will accomplish, said Tim Black, the director of consulting of CAHOOTS. “Crisis emerges when a need goes unmet,” he said, and that can only be resolved by more comprehensive behavioral health services and a stronger social safety net. “If there aren’t any other resources beyond the jail and hospital, it will still be cycling people back through those same broken systems.”

Read the whole story here: Albuquerque’s vision for non-police first responders comes down to earth

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