Are police systematically killing the mentally ill

Statistically, when it’s comes to police protecting and serving citizens this recent report, suggests law enforcement personnel are finding themselves having to confront the ever rising tide of community mental health issues often with fatal consequences.

The mentally impared represents a very small segment of our policing society and yet shockingly over 1/4 of the US population killed by police involved the mentally ill at some level.

Unfortunately, many policing agencies are ill equipped for handling emergencies dealing with emotional meltdowns on our streets and in our own living rooms.

The aftermath in far too many cases often results in heartbreaking news and the tragic loss of human life as was the case recently at a Palo Alto mental health facility.

And all to familiar, another man who was shot and killed was known to the San Mateo sheriffs department as a person suffering from schizophrenia.

The vast majority of police shootings are found to be justifies. Why? Officers fearing for their lives and in most cases, cleared of any criminal wronging doing a common outcome.

One of the most egregious cases of police abuse

was Kelly Thomas beaten to death by Fullerton police officers. Kelly Thomas also suffered from schizophrenia.

Kelly Thomas
Kelly Thomas

Few policing agencies are prepared to deal with the mental health issues encounter on our streets and despite the limited CIT [crisis intervention training] received by many local policing agencys including the San Mateo police, fatalities continue which suggests a broken training program.

Our National Mental Health System has gone beyond critical mass when it comes to policing the mentally impared. This is made evident by the continued stories of police responding to calls from distressed family members only to have their family member shot and killed by police or beaten to death.

This is exactly what occurred to a man in Pacifica, California, whose family members called police requesting assistance in calming down their distraught son.  The police responded, handcuffed the son, tazering him, and he subsequently died.

No one has all the answers as to whether or not the limited training class received by the for San Mateo police was enough training to handle these crisis situation but from all outward appearence this was not the case.

However, statistically, the continued increase in fatal police interventions of our mentally impaired citizens should give rise to, and dictate, a greater focus on the needs of the most vulnerable of our population, the mentally impaired.

One major policing agency making inroads into this growing national problems is the Memphis, Tennessee, Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team which has become nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice, as being a first to establish an elite group of police officers and mental health professionals specializing in mental health crisis situations with phenomenal success.

We’re not sure if the outcome would have been any different in Fullerton, Pacifica or in San Mateo, but it’s time to address our policing of this minority group head-on with properly trained Crisis–Intervention-Teams. And the time is now!

Related stories: Hold Your Fire

Editor’s note: Tazers continue to be hotly debated as an effect compliance tool in dealing with those suffering from a mental crisis.