People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police than other civilians stopped by law enforcement, a new study suggests.
The new report, released Thursday by the nonprofit Treatment Advocacy Center, reports that around 1 in 4 fatal police encounters results in the death of a person with severe mental illness.
The study authors reached these findings by looking at the proportion of total contacts in which a civilian was approached or stopped by police that resulted in a death for someone who has severe mental illness, divided by the same proportion but for people without severe untreated mental illness. The report authors say reliable data on fatal law enforcement encounters is lacking.
The report also underlined data suggesting that Americans with severe mental illness are also involved in at least one in 10 calls with police and account for one in five prison and jail beds in the U.S. "An estimated 1 in 3 individuals transported to hospital emergency rooms in psychiatric crisis are taken there by police," the report authors write.
“It should horrify but not surprise us that people with untreated mental illness are overrepresented in deadly encounters with law enforcement,” said John Snook, executive director of Treatment Advocacy Center and a co-author of the study said in a statement. “Individuals with untreated mental illness are vastly overrepresented in every corner of the criminal justice system. Until we reform the public policies that have abandoned them there, these tragic outcomes will continue.”
The researchers call on lawmakers to implement policies that improve the mental health system, fund reliable tracking of use of deadly force by law enforcement and ensure that mental illness in fatal police shootings is reported.