Study: People with Mental Illness are 16 Times More Likely to Be Killed During a Police Encounter

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This article has been reposted from it’s original source, DemocracyNow.com

SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

The shooting of Alfred Olango in El Cajon, California, is just the most recent in a string of police shootings of primarily men of color with mental illness or disability. Just last week, police in Charlotte, North Carolina, shot and killed Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father of seven who reportedly had suffered a traumatic brain injury during a motorcycle accident in 2015. In July, a police officer in North Miami contends he mistakenly shot an African-American behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, when he was aiming for Arnaldo Rios Soto, a 26-year-old autistic man. We speak to John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. He is co-author of a recent study that found people with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to bring into this conversation John Snook, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. He’s co-author of a recent study that found people with mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians. The report is titled “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters.”

John Snook, welcome to Democracy Now! So can you talk about what happened to Olango in the context of what your report found, the way in which police respond to emergency calls having to do with the mentally ill?

JOHN SNOOK: Sure. This is really the nightmare scenario for families with a loved one who has a mental illness, and for law enforcement themselves. These are the sort of situations that we really work every day to prevent. Unfortunately, this seems to have ended in the worst-case scenario. And as we’ve seen around the country with the data, it happens far too often.

And I think one of the things we need to think about is this idea of: When someone is having a medical emergency, why are we requiring law enforcement to step in? Why don’t we have a mental health system that addresses these folks before these situations happen? And again, we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re having to say, “Law enforcement, you need to address this person’s needs,” because they aren’t mental health professionals. They haven’t been trained.

And San Diego has stepped in with a program that’s called PERT. It provides basically for a co-responder, who is a psychiatric professional, to come along on some of these calls. But obviously that didn’t happen in this case, and it can’t happen in every case. So we really need to step back and say, “How do we keep law enforcement from having to be on the front lines to be our mental health responders?” and say, “How do we get mental health professionals more involved in these cases?”

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