One quarter of the men and women shot and killed by police in the first six months of 2015 were "in the throes of mental or emotional crisis," according to a new analysis published by the Washington Post on Tuesday, suggesting that law enforcement officers lack training on how to deal with the mentally ill.
"On average, police shot and killed someone who was in mental crisis every 36 hours in the first six months of this year," write journalists Wesley Lowery, Kimberly Kindy, and Keith L. Alexander.
Responding to a dearth of federal data on such killings, the Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting in the United States by a police officer in the line of duty in 2015, along with details about each incident—including the race of the deceased, the circumstances of the shooting, and whether the person was armed—sourced from local news reports and independent databases, such as Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters.
The Post database shows that in the first six months of this year, 461 people have been shot to death by police—including 123 killings "in which the mental health of the victim appeared to play a role, either because the person expressed suicidal intentions or because police or family members confirmed a history of mental illness," the Post reports.
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The analysis continues:
Nearly a dozen of the mentally distraught people killed were military veterans, many of them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their service, according to police or family members. Another was a former California Highway Patrol officer who had been forced into retirement after enduring a severe beating during a traffic stop that left him suffering from depression and PTSD.
And in 45 cases, police were called to help someone get medical treatment, or after the person had tried and failed to get treatment on his own.
For example, Common Dreams reported earlier this year on the shooting death of a homeless and mentally ill man in Los Angeles, who news outlets said had been living in a tent on Skid Row for a few months after spending a long stretch in a mental health facility. "That man never was a threat," one witness told the Los Angeles Times. "The amount of officers present at the time could have subdued him."
In interviews, the Post reports, current and former police chiefs cited insufficient or inappropriate training as well as "severe budget cuts for psychiatric services" as reasons for the deadly encounters.
"This a national crisis," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Post. "We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change."
Read the entire Post analysis here.