Quintonio LeGrier’s father called 911 to protect himself from his deranged son. When the police arrived, they found the 19-year-old LeGrier swinging a baseball bat, and one of the officers opened fire. LeGrier was killed.
This was not the first interaction the police had had with LeGrier. After all, people battling a mental illness often run into regular occurrences with the police. This holds especially true for those who are poor because they are also susceptible to homelessness and substance abuse. Unfortunately, these interactions all too often end in violence and death.
Police encounters with the mentally ill
Even after all this time and research, the police still remain as the primary responders to mental health crises.
According to the data assembled by The Washington Post, 990 people were shot and killed by police officers in the U.S. in 2015, and 227 have been shot so far just this year. Out of these casualties, 25 percent exhibited symptoms of mental illness.
Moreover, 14 percent of prisoners in American jails battle a serious mental illness, making police interaction with the mentally ill a frequent occurrence.
- A study discovered 92 percent of patrol officers to have had at least one encounter with a mentally ill person in the past month, and six such encounters averaging every month.
- The Lincoln Police Department in Nebraska found itself handling more than 1,500 mental health investigation cases in 2002, spending less time on burglaries or felony assaults.
- The New York City Police Department encounters nearly 150,000 “emotionally disturbed persons” calls annually.
Products of a dysfunctional system
This issue is not based upon just police violence. The flip side is an inadequate mental health treatment system and the declining mental health services in the country. The police have, by default, become the front line to deal with mental health issues, which only reflects on how society has chosen to handle such individuals and situations. The most hard-hit groups are once again the poor and minorities.
Between 2009 and 2012, states cut an overwhelming total of $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending from their budgets.
As per a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, such noteworthy cuts to the general fund for state mental health agencies resulted in a severe shortage of services, including community-based treatment and access to psychiatric medications.
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT)
The CIT program was initiated to reduce the violence in face-offs between the police and the mentally ill by training officers to identify mental illness while provisioning better access to mental health services. Although the program met with much popularity, only limited empirical evidence is available to support its efficacy.
Furthermore, not enough police officers are CIT-trained. For example, only 15 percent of the Chicago police officers are CIT trained, whereas expert recommendations promote training for at least 25 percent.
A broader approach
There is a dire need for large-scale investment in a mental health crisis system to work in association with the police. Mental health workers would swiftly gather relevant information, evaluate risk of harm and involve the family in a synchronized endeavor. A crisis team would counter the call, with police assistance if required, to establish the safest and most clinically appropriate circumstances.
Sovereign Health of California is a leading behavioral health treatment provider, devoted to evidence-based treatment for substance abuse disorder and mental illness. Our evidence-based treatment is based on an all-inclusive and holistic approach to ensure an all-encompassing and sustained recovery. If you or a loved one is currently struggling to regain control of your life, call us right away.
About the author
Sana Ahmed is a staff writer for Sovereign Health Group. A journalist and social media savvy content developer with extensive research, print and on-air interview skills, Sana has previously worked as an editor for a business magazine and been an on-air news broadcaster. She writes to share the amazing developments from the mental health world and unsuccessfully attempts to diagnose her friends and family. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.