Four out of six suspects in fatal St. Pete shootings had mental health issues

ST. PETERSBURG - St. Petersburg Police say there have been nine officer involved shootings in the city this year, including one that happened Monday night.

Four of those have involved people with mental issues.

"If he had a gun, there would be other people dead," St. Pete City Councilman Karl Nurse said, referring to Kenneth Sprankle, the fourth person shot to death by St. Pete PD this year. 

"This will happen again and again and again until we find enough places where people can take their neighbors and relatives that may not need to be hospitalized," he continued.

Nurse says while the city has been successful in getting people off the streets, getting them mental health treatment is more challenging. 

"We have places where if somebody gets bad enough, you can baker act them, but there's no step in between to speak of and we clearly need a lot more of that."

Lealann Cooley was the third person shot by St. Pete Police. 

Threatening suicide, he turned his gun on officers.  Pamela Dirk, the second person shot, had a similar situation.

And the first person shot this year, Arthur Dixon, was also threatening suicide, he came at officers with scissors. 

While there is a training program officers can participate in that could help in these types of situations, it's not required. 

"It's a forty hour training for law enforcement officers to help them understand how to respond to person with mental illness crisis. Why it's important to talk with someone, and why it's important to be patient and how you can communicate with that person to make sure there's not a violent result," Gay Hawk, Executive Director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Hawk suggests if you're making a 9-1-1 call about a loved one, or friend with mental health issues, you should request an officer who has had Crisis Intervention Training, but it's not a guarantee one will be available. 

However, Hawk also said that without proper treatment for the person with mental issues, training can't always save a life.

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