Mentally Ill Americans Die too Often in “Suicide by Cop”


Mentally Ill Americans Die too Often in “Suicide by Cop”.

There’s a tremendous number of American people who suffer mental illness – the deleterious effects of which can often be short lived in a mental “crisis” that then subsides after a proper “crisis intervention“.

Our country dismantled the mental health institution/complex of sanitariums over the last 50 years.

Unfortunately, Law Enforcement Officers in America today are oft trained to see everyone as criminals, then given a license to shoot. If they feel afraid or can reasonably claim so, it’s Suicide by Cop.

The Mentally Ill are shot by police at a higher rate than the general population, or anyone else.

This is leading to mentally ill people losing their lives in police related shootings, in situations where de-escalation techniques could save lives.

According to the Portland Press Herald’s 2012 investigative report found that 42% of those shot and 58% of those killed by Maine police were mentally ill.

We have tremendous sympathy for the victims’ families who lose a loved one traumatically during mental health crisis.

We also feel sympathy for police officers – who may lack training or policy guidance to resolve a crisis peacefully – are then traumatized by the shock of dealing with mental “crisis” frequently.

Police Chief magazine says that 5% of the population has a serious mental illness, and that those cases make up 7-10% of all police calls, in a 2003 article. Clearly, this isn’t a new issue, but it isn’t a “law enforcement priority” in many departments either.

Cops suffer from job related mental illness and elevated suicide rates

America’s systems for dealing with long term mental illness have virtually been reduced to prison or homeless shelters. Cops stand in the middle responding to events, often with lethal force.

Police suffer from mental illness too, and even a justifiable homicide or “cleared” case that is legit can cause emotional trauma to a perfectly innocent law enforcement officer.

The Badge of Life is a police resource and suicide prevention hotline. According to their detailed FAQ

Q. How many police suicides are there each year?A. There are between 125 – 150 police suicides each year. In 2008 there were 141  and in 2012, there were 126 police suicides.  These numbers are the result of three years of study. There is no reason to exaggerate them. They are high enough.For more details, read the Police Suicide Study 2008 – 2009. Two to three times as many officers commit suicide than are killed by the guns of felons (emphasis–*not “than die in the line of duty!”)*For more on some of the mythology on police suicide numbers that run as high as 300, 400 and even 800, go toPOLICE SUICIDE MYTHS.Q. What is the police suicide rate?A. For 2008 (141 police suicides nationally) the suicide rate was approximately 17/100/00. The general public was 11/100,000. Law enforcement is right behind the Army, which has a rate of 20/100,000.Again, for those who claim the rate is much higher (400 to 500 suicides equals a rate of 60/100,000), there is no reason (or mathematical logic) for such exaggeration.  It’s high enough, already.

Our ability to recognize mental health “crisis” amongst first responders is mostly a matter of training and priority.

Lastly, we have sympathy for the victims of these “Suicide by Cop”.  Often, mentally ill or those in crisis lose control of their faculties, act without malice aforethought and assault (that is to cause the fear of bodily harm) police officers provoking a legally justifiable lethal response.

In the dry lingo of law enforcement, these incidents may then be termed as “cleared” or justifiable homicide. It’s my belief that mental crisis calls could be counted better if seen in terms of lives saved divided by number of crisis calls.  Let’s hope that police departments start to focus on a success rate, of those taken into medical facilities without incident.

Finally, it is our wish at PINAC News that by pointing out these incidents, we may raise awareness of mental health issues and one day prevent many needless deaths, needless tragedies and family traumas across the country.


Citizen Journalism