Increasingly, law enforcement has become the first line of contact for people with serious mental illness and up to 10% of police callsinvolve someone with mental illness. A 2015 reportfound that people with mental illness were 16 times more likely than others to be killed in a police encounter. According to the report, about one in four fatal police encounters involve someone with a mental illness.
In April of 2018, New York City police officers shot and killed a man in Brooklyn who was known to be mentally ill after he pointed a metal pipe at officers. That same month, a 36 year old woman with mental illness in Georgia was shot by police after her family called 911 for help with her delusions. In 2016, Boston police officers shot and killed a mentally ill man who attacked emergency medical technicians who were called by his mother. These events happen on a regular basis but are not always reported in the media.
Lack of Police Training
Despite the fact that law enforcement officers are on the front lines of dealing with mental illness, many of them lack sufficient training on how to deal with people with mental disabilities. There is a severe lack of training in how to cope with and safely interact with an individual suffering from a mental health crisis. Training that assists officers in identifying individuals with a mental disability and how to handle them could go a long way toward reducing violent police encounters.
In many cases police officers receive the opposite of the type of training they should be receiving. The tactics used by police can sometimes escalate a situation when an individual is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Someone in a crisis may react more violently and officers should be trained on how to safely approach an individual and bring down the situation. People with mental illness don’t always exhibit obvious symptoms so police officers should be trained to recognize the signs of a crisis that are not always easy to detect.
Lack of Treatment
The lack of mental health treatment in many communities has turned the mental health crisis into a police matter rather than a public health situation. An increase in quality mental health care would clearly lead to a decrease in the number of police encounters in the first place.
If you or a loved one has a mental disability and has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.