Nearly 1 in 4 People Killed By Police Are Mentally Ill, More Are Just Distraught

By Amanda Warren

Washington Post has decided to take details of officer-involved shootings and compile this year’s data to detect patterns.

One pattern that soon became clear: the significant amount of mentally unstable people who are shot on site.

Last year, I wrote about one such instance in “Naked? Acting Weird? On-site Execution by Police.” I only wanted to show that strange behavior does not warrant a threat or a reason to kill (especially when considering that there are still less-than-lethal methods available).

It looks like Washington Post agrees for the most part, when it comes a volatile situation possibly made worse by volatile reactions.

From the Washington Post report (emphasis and red comments are mine):

Nationwide, police have shot and killed 124 people this year who […] were in the throes of mental or emotional crisis, according to a Washington Post analysis. The dead account for a quarter of the 462 people shot to death by police [the number is actually up to 552 now] in the first six months of 2015.

The vast majority were armed [with? was it on a nearby table? because apparently that counts], but in most cases, the police officers who shot them were not responding to reports of a crime. More often, the police officers were called by relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically, reports show. More than 50 people were explicitly suicidal.

More than half the killings involved police agencies that have not provided their officers with state-of-the-art training to deal with the mentally ill. And in many cases, officers responded with tactics that quickly made a volatile situation even more dangerous.


“This a national crisis,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization devoted to improving policing. “We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.”

He’s right – it needs to change.

People keep asking for more officer training. Think about that request. Asking for the ability to instantly detect mental illness or disabilities and leave them alone. But what we want is to end unnecessary, on-site executions for everyone except for extreme life-threatening situations. An emotionally distraught person is not a threat. Home invasions should be stopped immediately and SWAT should have nothing to do with emotional calls or wait until after midnight to bust into someone’s home.

Police departments continue to bulk up thanks to the 1033 program that provides armored vehicles and war-like gear. They promise they won’t use them but for extreme situations but they crash homes if there has been an anonymous tip of emotional distress (no escalation here). They say they need such items for live active-shooter situations, but those are so rare – in 2014 alone, police killed more American citizens than all victims from U.S. mass shootings combined.

It sounds like what we need is some officer un-training. The crux of the problem is training that American citizens are always a threat, threats must be eliminated and there is no such thing as excessive force. It’s undeniably over-kill. The reduction of shootings for all people could protect the lives of unstable or distraught people that need real, sensible help – and the ones who didn’t need help but were the victims of anonymous tips and welfare check requests. It simply makes no sense at all to call for help when someone is upset or suicidal, only to have them possibly killed when help arrives. Furthermore, let’s leave elderly off the list of brutalization – it’s incredibly dishonorable to the profession, the culture and the country.

To realize the facts that to shoot first due to “fear for my life” in the strangest circumstances shows, at best, someone who is not equipped to handle the authority and responsibility – at worst, someone who gravitated to the position to have an excuse to take life with impunity. The 50 police killed on the job last year is ridiculously eclipsed by the 1,100+ killed by police in the same year. Police can handle this authority and responsibility with honor, and without risking their own lives – they can be accountable. There is no reason more Americans should die in their own country at the hands of officials, than American soldiers lost to insurgents during battle for the same amount of time. No more rationalizing; it’s time they desire to have their honor back and stop viewing their neighbors as objects.

Lastly, when an officer shows great skill at de-escalating a situation and taking care of someone in distress instead of “eliminating the threat” – why fire that man? Why make a case that he was old, hesitated and not up to speed? He was trained old-school….

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11 Comments on "Nearly 1 in 4 People Killed By Police Are Mentally Ill, More Are Just Distraught"

  1. The 50 police officers who died in the line of duty last year is padded with all the ones who had heart attacks on the job or were killed in garden-variety car accidents. The number actually killed by violence from a citizen is much lower. Every construction worker you see has a more dangerous job than cops, but we don’t call them “heroes” or go into national mourning every time one dies.

    • Yes correct. Actually the job of a Peace Officer…not a Cop or Pol-ice officer can be performed successfully to all concerned via not bearing a fire arm…..while on duty…..except for extreme danger….as a gun battle is on going when answering a call…I know…I have been there…an US Army draftee into Nam, 1968 and placed as an army MP….and had any of us done what these thugs across our country are doing, we would have been court martialed on the spot….
      Were I a police chief of any police department in the US….that’s how the Peace Officers on my responsibility would behave….other wise…they would find work somewhere else…
      Just as bad as the cops, the legal system refuses to prosecute most of the murderers….(cops) who don’t know right from wrong.

    • “Every construction worker you see has a more dangerous job than cops, but we don’t call them “heroes” or go into national mourning every time one dies.”

      The same should go for the all-volunteer U.S. military that fights on behalf of corporations wanting territory and resources seized. They aren’t fighting for our freedom and rights. There’s no need to call them “heroes.”

      • 100% correct. This is why I marvel that soldiers are willing to spend years away from loved ones, often living in harsh conditions, and sometimes getting shot at, when even from a few hours of reading in the right place or watching a documentary or two they could learn that soldiering for imperialism is worse than a waste of their time.

  2. Dealing with mentally disturbed people has always been part of a policeman’s job, and it isn’t rocket science. Here is a training video on this subject produced by the New Orleans police department 50+ years ago.

    • Wow — thanks for posting this. It’s deeply saddening to know how far downhill American policing has gone from the common sense and compassion approach in this video. Today, any of the situations depicted in this film could be fatal for the citizen. The man with the knife would instantly be killed now.

  3. Paul Mitchell | July 1, 2015 at 7:14 pm | Reply

    In Hitler’s Germany the mentally ill were among the first people rounded up and disposed of (killed) when the Nazi killing machine geared into action.

  4. abovethelaw | July 2, 2015 at 6:26 am | Reply

    the only thing they are accountable to is an over sized paycheck. Most t are too stupid to remember training.

  5. A relative called police, her husband was suicidal. Police came and handcuffed him and placed him face down. Inexplicably one officer took out his gun and unloaded it in his back, killing him. His 15 year old son and his wife were both witnesses, were arrested, taken to the station and interrogated for hours. Meanwhile the cops found a legally registered pistol in the home and fired into the wall. Now they are claiming it was all in self defence and got away clean. Ceres, California.

  6. Can the people shoot mentally disturbed and deranged police officers?

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