For criminal justice reformers, the incident shows that police need to be cut from the equation of mental health emergency response. “The footage of Tania Silva’s arrest shows a horrifying, yet common example of everything that goes wrong when law enforcement responds to a mental health crisis,” said Cate Graziani, an organizer with the Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership. Calling the arrest “traumatic and unnecessary,” Graziani said APD should have deferred to EMS or the mobile crisis team, and she noted that the presence of an APD mental health officer—meaning a cop who’s taken training in crisis intervention—seemed to make little difference. “Cops are not health workers,” she said, “and no amount of mental health training can guarantee the safety of individuals in crisis who call 911 for help.”
The incident fueled existing discontent with APD’s handling of mental health crises. Despite Austin’s reputation as a progressive beacon, a 2018 city audit found that of the country’s 15 most populous cities, plus Seattle, Austin had the “highest per capita rate of fatal police shootings involving persons believed to be experiencing a mental health crisis.” In a notorious 2016 incident, then-APD officer Geoffrey Freeman shot and killed 17-year-old David Joseph, who was in crisis and naked at the time.