Law-enforcement professionals and mental-health advocates are seeing an increase in fatal encounters between police and the mentally ill, says the Wall Street Journal. They cite a narrowing range of treatment options that has shifted more responsibility for the mentally ill to law officers, jails and prisons. “No police officer does well with shooting someone, let alone someone with mental illness,” said Michael Biasotti of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, a mental-health and law-enforcement policy researcher. “That destroys a bunch of people at once.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests violent attacks on police officers by mentally unstable people have been increasing over the past decade, said James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents 330,000 law-enforcement officers. Definitive data is scarce, in part because mental-health records are restricted by federal regulations and state laws. The FBI tracks “justifiable homicide,” which it defines as “the killing of a felon by a law-enforcement officer in the line of duty,” but it doesn’t note which of those involve mental illness. While crime rates nationally have fallen since the late 1990s, justifiable homicides by police officers have risen, from 297 in 2000 to 410 in 2012. Hidden within that category is what is known informally as “suicide by cop,” when a person intentionally provokes an officer into using lethal force. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum believes this type of suicide is increasing in frequency. About half the nation’s population lives in places where officers don’t get training in dealing with the mentally ill, said Doris Fuller of the Treatment Advocacy Center.