Wife of shooting victim calls for changes - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Wife of shooting victim calls for changes on mental health responses

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Breaking her silence. The wife of a Burlington man shot and killed by police last fall speaks publicly for the first time telling city council members policies regarding mental health responses need to change.

The Burlington Police Department says it responds to more mental health calls than any other calls for service.

For family and friends of Wayne Brunette -- a man with a history of mental health issues -- they hope new rules will be written so another family does not have to endure a similar tragedy.

"My husband was a very caring, poetic, loving, romantic man. He was fantastic father," said Barbara Brunette.

Brunette's husband Wayne was fatally shot by a Burlington Police officer in November after an altercation at his home. Police say Brunette charged at an officer with a shovel and was shot to death. The 49-year-old struggled with mental health issues. Now his wife is urging the city council to make policy changes.

"I do not want this to happen to another family. People in the community are scared to call. Policies have to change," said Brunette.

And that change could be coming in the form of a new resolution brought to the council Monday evening. City Councilman David Hartnett says a review of mental health responses in the city is long overdue.

"If somebody is shot and killed in the city -- and to say 'Well, he suffered from mental health issues and he was kind of crazy. It's too bad that happened but that's okay.' That's unacceptable. So hopefully tonight we will change that tone," said Hartnett.

Hartnett says his two main goals are to increase police officer training for mental health calls and improve cooperation between law enforcement and other mental health agencies. A plan the Burlington police chief strongly supports.

"Our call volume alone has increased over 400 percent in the last five years -- in just the cross section of calls we designate as mental health issues. That's to say nothing of attempted suicides, welfare checks, and a host of other issues that have underlying mental health causes," said Burlington Police Chief Mike Schirling.

Chief Schirling says it is crucial that the city works towards finding alternatives to law enforcement responses. The next step is to get trained mental health workers on the streets as first responders.

"The mere presence of law enforcement can exacerbate the situation for a host of reasons. So trying to bring civilians that are trained as mental health workers, that have advanced degrees in mental health -- to the scene is where we are trying to go," said Chief Schirling.

Chief Schirling says starting Wednesday he'll re-assign a trained mental health worker to be a first responder. The Chief says over the next six weeks the department will assess if the change works and possibly hire another person as a crisis responder.

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