Last month in Alabama, a bipolar, suicidal, 36 year-old woman armed with a pocket knife was killed by police after her concerned family called police for help. Her mother had called police to inform them that the woman was depressed and had threatened to slit her wrists and take her own life. The woman’s sister helped police track the woman down with GPS tracking. The family expected that the police would find their loved one and save her life. Instead, the police tracked her down, pulled her over, and when she exited her vehicle, they shot her and killed her.
Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. The Washington Post reports that “[s]ince January 2015, The Post has tracked more than 1,100 fatal shootings by on-duty police officers, with one in four involving someone who was either in the midst of a mental health crisis or was explicitly suicidal. . . .in half of those cases, the officers involved were not properly trained to deal with the mentally ill — and in many cases, officers responded with tactics that quickly made a volatile situation even more dangerous.” To look at it another way: “On average, police shot and killed someone who was in mental crisis every 36 hours in the first six months of .” The Post has documented the trend in an article called “Police Shootings: Distraught people, deadly results.” The Los Angeles Times reports a similar trend: “More than a third of the people shot by Los Angeles police last year had documented signs of mental illness, nearly triple the number from the year before, according to a lengthy review by LAPD officials made public” in March.
Two especially disturbing trends emerge from The Post’s data — (1) many of the victims who were killed by police were military veterans killed during PTSD episodes, and (2) in many cases, witnesses or victims call 911 seeking medical assistance from the police but, instead of providing aid ,the police end up killing the mentally ill individual.
The Post reports that “[a]though new recruits typically spend nearly 60 hours learning to handle a gun, according to a recent survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, they receive only eight hours of training to de-escalate tense situations and eight hours learning strategies for handling the mentally ill. . . . Mental health experts say most police departments need to quadruple the amount of training that recruits receive for dealing with the mentally ill, requiring as much time in the crisis-intervention classroom as police currently spend on the shooting range.”