The Washington Post published a front-page story July 1, detailing its initial finding from a first-of-its type database of fatal shooting incidents involving police officers.
Inspired by the protests surrounding police shootings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Washington Post database tracks data on more than a dozen characteristics for each shooting.
Through July 1, police have fatally shot 462 civilians nationwide. In 124 of these situations, mental illness played a role, either because the person expressed suicidal intentions or the person’s mental illness was confirmed by police or family members.
In 45 of these shootings, relatives, friends and neighbors initially called the police, requesting medical treatment for the deceased.
“This a national crisis,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an independent research organization devoted to improving policing, told the Washington Post. “We have to get American police to rethink how they handle encounters with the mentally ill. Training has to change.”
New recruits typically receive just eight hours of training on de-escalating tense situations and right hours on learning strategies for handling people with mental illness. Comparatively, they typically receive 60 hours on learning how to use a gun.
In many circumstances, the training receive is inadequate and even counterproductive.
“(Yelling and pointing guns is) like pouring gasoline on a fire when you do that with the mentally ill,” Ron Honberg, policy director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Washington Post.
Although the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention track data on the police shootings, the data is widely believed to be inadequate. In four decades of tracking such data, it has never found more than 460 police involved shootings in a single year, which is less than the Post analysis found occurred in the first half of this year.
The Post’s data only tracks civilians shot while the officers were in the line of duty and does not include civilians already in custody, shooting by off-duty officers or incidents where individuals were shot by something other than police gunfire.