Statement of The Legal Aid Society on the Tragic Death of Deborah Danner

The Legal Aid Society of New York joins this City in mourning the unnecessary death of Deborah Danner in her home last night. Once again, this tragedy could have been avoided. We are outraged that the response to a cry for help from a 66 year old women with a known history of mental illness was responded to by NYPD and not medical professionals.

As this City’s oldest and largest provider of legal services for low income New Yorkers we insure that we have forensic social workers working side by side with our legal staff to advocate that a client’s mental health needs are met through appropriate services, and not the criminal justice system. The social work profession holds as one of its core values, the “Dignity and Worth of the Person”; Deborah Danner’s dignity and worth should have been prioritized when police approached her in her own home.

This tragic incident illustrates the need for a more informed and measured response to mentally ill individuals by law enforcement. We call on the NYPD to prioritize training initiatives that will educate their members on how mental health issues present. Further, we believe that every call to assist someone with a mental illness be addressed by a team that includes forensic social workers or other mental health professionals. The need to appropriately and safely engage individuals in order to de-escalate a situation when they are experiencing a mental health crisis is essential. Ensuring the safety of everyone is only realized when those suffering from mental illness are not criminalized for their symptoms, but are provided with appropriate care they need and deserve.