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Untreated severe mental illness is an increasing factor in officer-involved homicides, according to a new joint study released today with the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Justifiable Homicides: What is the Role of Mental Illness?” reports that, while the total number of incidents classed as “justifiable homicides” decreased from 1980-2008, the number resulting from an attack on an officer increased by 67%. At least half the people shot and killed by police each year are believed to have mental health problems, the report said.

“The responsibility of law enforcement officers for seriously mentally ill persons has increased sharply in recent years and is continuing to increase,” the authors wrote. “Inevitably, the increasing number of confrontations between law enforcement officers and persons with serious mental illness leads to some unfortunate outcomes. Among the most tragic are officer-related shootings of the mentally ill individuals, many of which are fatal.”

The report makes three recommendations for decreasing the number of justifiable homicides associated with severe mental illness. 

  • Collect better data in order to increase information about the issue.
  • Return the responsibility for individuals with serious mental illness to the mental health system.
  • Use assisted outpatient treatment (AOT).

 “Justifiable homicides involving people with untreated mental illness are a symptom of our failed mental illness treatment system,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. “Fewer officers would come under attack and fewer people with mental illness would die from these encounters if more people with mental illness were getting the treatment they need when they need it.”

Read the full report on our website dedicated to Treatment Advocacy Center research and reports.

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