‘Protect and Serve’ or trigger-happy?

Columnist Kendall Grove

Columnist Kendall Grove

Alfred Olango, a 38-year old African-American resident of El Cajon in San Diego County, was shot multiple times by an El Cajon police officer in front of a taco shop on Sept. 27.
The two officers at the scene were responding to a call made by Olango’s sister during which she said he was acting erratic. Olango was not following police orders to remove his hands from his pockets and was shot after he pulled an electronic smoking device from his pocket and pointed it at the police like a gun.
Shortly after the shooting, Olango’s sister was heard in a video recorded by a witness saying she had called for help and they killed her brother instead.
It was first believed Olango was mentally ill or challenged but his mother, Pamela Benge, later revealed in a briefing he was distraught over the death of a close friend.
One of the first questions surrounding the shooting was about where the psychiatric emergency response team was. The El Cajon Police Department responded to this in an online statement saying the psychiatric emergency response team was on a different call at the time. Although this may explain why the team wasn’t there, it doesn’t excuse the tragedy of the event.
There is an on-going problem surrounding police and their fatal interactions with unarmed citizens. The officer who shot and killed Olango was Richard Gonsalves.
There was a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Gonsalves last year and it was revealed he had sent inappropriate sexual messages and photos to female coworkers. Gonsalves’ only hardship from the situation was a settlement and demotion. He still remained an officer at the El Cajon Police Department.

Still image of the incident. nbcsandiego.com

Still image of the incident. nbcsandiego.com

Someone who is in a position of authority and already has a history of acting inappropriately, shouldn’t be allowed to continue being an officer.
In the only photo released by the El Cajon Police Department, you can see the two officers a few feet away from Olango when he pulled out the electronic smoking device. They were close enough that they should’ve been able to see it was not a weapon.
It’s also on record the officers had been informed on the radio call that Olango was unarmed.
Video footage of the incident was taken on a cellphone that was voluntarily given to the police by a witness, as well as security footage from a nearby business. The video was released on Friday, and is available to watch on the Los Angeles Times website.
NBC San Diego County reported 88 body cameras were approved for purchase in May of this year, but El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis said they wouldn’t use the cameras until the start of 2017.
There are a multitude of ways the police could have handled the situation, but it seems like officers are poorly trained for psychiatric inclusive situations. Police should be required to have the same training as psychiatric emergency response teams so that in cases such as this, they can help save a life instead of taking one.
Many say the police were just doing their job, but first and foremost they are supposed to protect. Olango was unarmed, and the reality of the situation is if they had taken the time to talk to him and understand the emotional pain he was going through, then Olango might still have his life. Police are too quick to reach for their weapons in situations where they feel threatened. Feeling threatened comes with the nature of the job and should not result in ‘trigger-happy’ cops.