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LETTERS

Family of victim in Newton police shooting wants crisis training to be mandatory

Newton residents watch on Lincoln Street in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Conlon on Jan. 5.
Newton residents watch on Lincoln Street in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Conlon on Jan. 5.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

Our son, Michael Conlon, was shot and killed by Newton Police on Jan. 5.

The way he died is unfathomable for our family, as is the disgraceful mischaracterization of Michael as a dangerous knife-wielding robber and the public’s general misunderstanding of mental illness. The report from the Newton Police Reform Task Force, released last week, is a step in the right direction. But it is important that the public and the Legislature know that this isn’t just about policy or punishment — it’s about people.

Michael was a gentle soul who loved his family above all and was a thoughtful and caring son, brother, grandson, nephew, and brother-in-law. He was looking forward to becoming an uncle and being regularly involved with the baby’s life. Michael could be reserved and quiet in the company of others, but in the comfort of his home, he loved sharing his thoughts on world events. Michael had a great sense of humor and an infectious laugh and loved listening to music.

Every day, Michael faced the reality of living with mental illness, just as millions of individuals in our country do. He worked hard to build an independent life, be a good neighbor, and settle in his community. We would exchange text messages daily until the weekends arrived when he would return home. Now, every day we are reminded of his stark absence in our lives and the way in which his life ended.

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We recognize that Newton is developing a multidisciplinary team to respond to crisis situations encountering the mentally ill, and we acknowledge Newton’s commitment to give its officers access to training to that effect. However, given that 1 in 5 US adults experiences mental illness, 1 in 20 US adults experiences severe mental illness, and 17 percent of youth experience a mental health disorder, we feel training is not only called for, but also necessary. We are left wondering whether, had this training been mandatory for all officers on Jan. 5, Michael might still be with us.

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The Conlon family

Medfield