Over The Past 3 Years, Police Have Killed 178 People In Crisis

It is painful to watch a loved one in the throes of a mental health emergency. Sometimes the problem might be post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, or other forms of severe anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression.

These conditions are not uncommon. Health experts estimate that approximately 1 in 4 American adults suffers from some form of mental health disorder — and many sufferers have more than one.

Whatever the issue is, if left untreated, or otherwise advances toward a crisis state, your loved one could pose a threat to themselves or others. You may feel you need to dial 911 to get help from emergency responders. Tragically, these calls often end very badly for the loved one you might be trying to save. That’s because police are far too often dispatched to handle mental health emergencies. Police officers are trained to assess and neutralize threats, and are usually not skilled in sensitively and humanely de-escalating situations where mentally ill people might be acting erratically.

With alarming frequency, the encounter leads to violence. People who are in a mental health crisis may not respond to verbal commands from officers, and may instead be treated by police as a threat. That might mean officers use force on your loved one, or might even shoot and kill them.

A newly-published investigation by The Washington Post reveals just how dangerous these encounters can be to people suffering from mental health issues. In far too many instances, the person police were called to help ends up dead. Here are some of the key findings.

  • Reporters from The Post found 178 cases across the U.S. from 2019 through 2021 where a call for help resulted in the killing of the person cops were asked to assist. The cases were found by analyzing the newspaper’s nationwide database of fatal police shootings, and further probing public information.
  • The calls for help were mostly made by the individuals themselves or worried family members and other loved ones. In most instances, the caller specifically described the situation as a mental health crisis, requested a wellness check, or alerted authorities to the possibility of suicide.
  • In some instances, the person making the call tried to avoid summoning police over fears the person in distress could end up injured or killed.
  • One individual highlighted by The Washington Post called the Red Cross to report his concerns about his brother, a 30-year-old Black combat veteran who had grown increasingly depressed and isolated during the pandemic. But the Red Cross ended up calling the cops anyway. When cops confronted the combat veteran, who had a legally-owned, holstered gun on him at the time, cops shot and killed the veteran.

Unfortunately, this information likely does not come as a surprise to mental health professionals. The Treatment Advocacy Center, a U.S. nonprofit devoted to improving access to mental health treatment, has found that untreated severe mental illness affects at least 25 percent and as many as 50 percent of all fatal police shootings.

The center argues that the single most effective strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the U.S. would be improving mental health treatment and reducing instances of cops responding to people in a mental health crisis.