Police in the U.S. have shot and killed 123 people this year who were in the throes of mental or emotional crisis, reports the Washington Post. The dead account for a quarter of the 461 people shot to death by police in the first six months of 2015. The vast majority were armed, but in most cases, the police officers who shot them were not responding to reports of a crime. More often, the officers were called by relatives, neighbors or other bystanders worried that a mentally fragile person was behaving erratically. More than 50 people were explicitly suicidal.
More than half the killings involved police agencies that have not given officers with state-of-the-art training to deal with the mentally ill. In many cases, officers responded with tactics that quickly made a volatile situation even more dangerous. The Post said it is providing for the first time a national, real-time tally of the shooting deaths of mentally distraught people at the hands of law enforcement. Criminal justice experts say police are often ill-equipped to respond to such individuals, and that the encounters too often end in needless violence. “This a national crisis,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. “We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.”