At a time of concern over police shootings, a new report estimates that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police, reports USA Today. About one in four fatal police encounters involves someone with mental illness, says the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, which focuses on the needs of people with serious mental illness. The problem stems from a lack of police training, as well as a lack of treatment for those with serious mental illness, said the center’s John Snook. In many cases, people with serious mental illness are unable to get treatment until their behavior attracts the attention of the police.
“If this were any other medical condition, people would be up in arms,” Snook said. “What we need to do is treat the person before the police are ever called. This is a mental illness, but we respond by calling the police and arresting a person.” Nearly 8 million Americans suffer from a serious mental illness that “disorders their thinking,” such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, says the report. On any given day, half of these patients are not taking medications or getting other care. “Police are being forced to be mental health counselors without training,” said Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It underscores a real tragedy: the total collapse of the mental health system in the United States. People who should be wards of the hospital are wards of the street.” A growing number of police departments have formed crisis intervention teams, whose members have special training in dealing with people with mental illness. Training focuses on ways to calm people in the midst of a breakdown, rather than using force.