A new study from the non-profit Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) in Virginia has shown that people with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police than average civilians. This suggests that health institutions and public policies are failing to provide proper treatment for those suffering from mental health issues.
The executive director for TAC John Snook said, “If you have these situations in communities where, when someone is really sick, the only call the family can make is to law enforcement; of course you’re going to see these sort of tragedies happen. People don’t stop getting sick just because you don’t have hospital beds for them, they have to go somewhere, so they go to the places that can’t say no.”
The report also stated that 20% of all people in American prisons and jails are individuals suffering from severe mental illnesses. Sadly, for many mental health sufferers, their road leads them to hospitalization or incarceration.
TAC says that nearly 8 million Americans are living with a severe mental illness and that half of these people do not receive much needed help and treatment. These people have a much greater likelihood of being harmed while engaging with law enforcement.
Recently the FBI and the Justice Department have announced plans to expand and relaunch their respective efforts to obtain more information about fatal interactions between civilians and police officers. However, one issue that makes this difficult is the lack of reliable data from the government.
The TAC report read, “To some degree, the failure to track the role of mental illness in fatal police encounters is symptomatic of the failure to systematically track fatal police encounters, period.”
Several independent investigations have found that about 25% of all fatal police incidents are said to involve a victim that was mentally ill. The investigations all noted that this estimate was extremely conservative.
That being said, the statistic has not been confirmed by the Justice Department. But assuming that this estimate is true, those with a severe mental health issues are 16 times more likely to be killed by the police than a citizen without mental health problems.