Mentally Ill Shot to Death in U.S. in 2015: 124 and Counting
Police in the United States have fatally shot 124 mentally ill people so far this year, according to The Washington Post.
The Post found that the vast majority of the 124 were armed, but in most cases, the officers weren’t responding to reports of a crime, but to calls from relatives, neighbors or others who said a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically, including 50 victims who said they wanted to kill themselves. And many of those who were armed didn’t have firearms, but toy guns, knives or other implements that are less lethal than a gun.
The newspaper also found that more than 50% of the 124 were killed by officers whose agencies did not provide the most current training available for dealing with the mentally ill. “And in many cases, officers responded with tactics that quickly made a volatile situation even more dangerous,” the Post’s Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy and Keith L. Alexander wrote.
For instance, police are trained to take control, often through stern, shouted commands, when dealing with an armed suspect, the Post reported. But shouting and drawing weapons is “like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” said Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization devoted to improving policing, said the death toll of mentally ill at the hands of police represents “a national crisis.”
“We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change,” Wexler told the Post.
The newspaper reported that its research showed there were 462 police shootings in the first six months of 2015. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is supposed to keep track of such things but often has incomplete data, has never recorded 460 shootings in an entire year.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
Distraught People, Deadly Results (by Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Keith L. Alexander, Washington Post)
463 People Shot Dead by Police This Year (Washington Post)
Half of People Killed by Police are Mentally Ill (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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