People with Untreated Mental Illness 16 Times More Likely to be Killed by Law Enforcement

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People with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least 1 in 4 and as many as half of all fatal police shootings, according to a new study released today by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter,

Individuals with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement, according to a new study released today by the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Numbering fewer than 1 in 50 U.S. adults, individuals with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least 1 in 4 and as many as half of all fatal police shootings, the study reports. Because of this prevalence, reducing encounters between on-duty law enforcement and individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases may represent the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the United States, the authors conclude.

“By dismantling the mental illness treatment system, we have turned mental health crisis from a medical issue into a police matter,” said John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center and a co-author of the study. “This is patently unfair, illogical and is proving harmful both to the individual in desperate need of care and the officer who is forced to respond.”

The report, “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” urges lawmakers to reduce loss of life and the many social costs associated with police shootings by enacting public policies that will:

  • Restore the mental health system so that individuals with severe mental illness are not left to deteriorate until their actions provoke a police response;
  • Fund reliable federal tracking and reporting of all incidents involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement, whether lethal or not; and
  • Assure that the role of mental illness in fatal police shootings is identified and reported in government data collection.

“It should horrify but not surprise us that people with untreated mental illness are over-represented in deadly encounters with law enforcement,” said Snook. “Individuals with untreated mental illness are vastly over-represented in every corner of the criminal justice system. Until we reform the public policies that have abandoned them there, these tragic outcomes will continue.”

Responding to the FBI’s announcement this week that the agency will overhaul its much-criticized methods of collecting fatal-encounter data, Snook added, "Unless the overhaul includes collecting mental health data, the role of mental illness will continue to be concealed from the public and lawmakers, and the most pragmatic and immediate approach to reducing fatal law enforcement encounters – treating the untreated – will remain overlooked.”

Read Overlooked in the Undercounted now.

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Jamie Mondics
Treatment Advocacy Center
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