After a year in which more than 1000 people were killed by the police, a new report reveals that people with mental health problems are the most likely to be killed by the police. According to some figures, they are 16 times more likely to be killed in interaction with the police than the neurotypical population.
The Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) in Virginia released the report which shows that in one out of four fatal police encounters, the victim is a person with mental illness.
John Snook, co-author of the report and director of TAC says that this is a result of the police officer’s lack of training but also of the fact that many persons with mental illness are not taking any treatment.
About 8 million Americans suffer from a mental illness that impairs their thinking, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Among them, nearly half are not taking their daily medication. Most of them are not taking any medication before the police are called as a result of their unusual behavior.
Snook claims that mentally impaired individuals need to be treated before they end up at the police station, or even worse, before they become victims of police violence.
However, there are no reliable statistics on police shootings, but the FBI claims that they will change their system of tracking police shootings so it will include more detailed statistics.
According to Snook, even if people with mental health problems are not more violent than neurotypical people, they get arrested more often as they tend to be poorer and many of them become homeless. Usually, mentally ill people end up in police custody as a result of minor offenses, like shoplifting, loitering or urinating in public.
Their encounters with the police can easily become dangerous since psychotic people can behave unpredictably. For example, people suffering from paranoia tend to panic when they are confronted by the police. On the other side, a schizophrenic person who might be hearing voices may not stop at police orders.
However, there are some police departments who are taking crisis intervention trainings for learning how to deal with mentally ill persons. The trainings are teaching officers how to calm down people in the midst of a breakdown without using force.
A good example is Miami-Dade County in Florida, where almost 4,600 police officers have been trained to deal with persons suffering from mental health problems. If before the trainings they were involved in the shooting of a mentally ill person almost every month, in the past five years, since the training has started, they have been involved in only four or five shootings.
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