"If someone in your family is mentally disturbed or off their meds, and the cops show up, you have to understand that the cops are not psychologists or psychiatrists," he said. "They'll try to deal with them as gently as they can, but if it gets to the point that they believe someone's life is in jeopardy, they're going to use lethal force.

"People watch movies and think, 'Well, the cop should have or could have done something else,' or, 'The guy is only using his fist and the cop has a gun, so that's not fair.' Cops are ordinary people. They're not Steven Seagal."

Police have been more regularly conducting "after action" reviews, acting on recommendations from a panel that reviewed the fatal police-involved shooting that killed Officer William H. Torbit Jr. last year.

Though officials said there have not been any major training issues that stuck out from this year's shooting incidents, Col. Garnell Green, the commander of the homicide section that investigates police-involved shootings, said in an interview last month that only one of the officers involved in a 2012 shooting at that point had training to carry a Taser.

According to a review of police shootings by The Baltimore Sun, 14 people were shot in 2011. Excluding the four bystanders hit by stray bullets outside the Select Lounge when Torbit was shot by fellow officers, six of the eight victims that year had some type of firearm and the other two had knives.

In 2010, 10 people were shot by officers, two fatally. At least six of the victims had firearms, according to the records. Of the others, one victim was a child struck by an errant bullet when an officer fired at an aggressive pit bull; another officer shot at a moving vehicle; and a third victim was shot when a man advanced on him with a burglary tool.

One of the victims that year was Dennis Gregory, an informant who tipped police that a man on his porch had a weapon. When officers arrived, the man fired at them and Gregory was hit by the return fire. Police said publicly at the time that Gregory had fired at the officers, but documents later obtained by The Baltimore Sun showed that Gregory was unarmed and had been shot by accident.

Gregory Lewis, who grew up with Bell and calls himself a family friend, is reserving judgment about Bell's shooting death, even though many are angry about it. He walked through the vacant home where the shooting occurred, to recover any of Bell's possessions that were left behind, and found it treacherous and "scary."

"In that situation, I can see how everybody was on pins and needles," he said. "It's sad that it had to come to this, but I'm not drawing any conclusions."

Families with relatives struggling with mental illness are encouraged to call the city's crisis line, 410-433-5175, though the agency's mobile crisis teams are not staffed 24 hours a day.


Shootings by city police

2012: 10

2011: 14

2010: 10

Source: Baltimore Sun review of reports

  • Text NEWS to 70701 to get Baltimore Sun local news text alerts