Unchecked Power Police Killings of Racial Minorities and the Mentally Ill

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Reese Armstrong
Nicole Cantoni


Introduction: Police brutality has gained a great amount of attention in both mainstream and social media over the years. It has plagued the non-dominant groups of our society since the inception of the first centralized police departments in the mid to late 1800’s (History, 2020) and continues to impact them to this day. This paper seeks to analyze and review journal articles of police homicides in relation to race and mental illness. From there, literature was reviewed that examined the impact police brutality has on the surrounding community. Finally, literature around mobile crisis teams was reviewed to examine an alternative policing model.

Methods: For this paper, the authors reviewed both journal articles examining police use of lethal force, and studies examining police use of lethal force among racial minorities and among individuals with mental illness. Although official government data is often incomplete and unreliable (Frankham, 2018), many of the sources utilize data taken from journalistic efforts to catalogue police use of force (e.g., Fatal Encounters project).

Results: Several articles were reviewed that examined police brutality and response. First, police in the United States kill 33.5 people for every 10 million people, more than three times as many as Canadian police (Jones & Sawyer, 2020). In terms of race, nearly 100 African American men are killed per 100,000, while White men are only killed at a rate of 40 per 100,000 (Edwards et al., 2019).

Looking at the statistics for those with mental illness, nearly 25% of the roughly 2,000 people shot by police in 2015-2016 exhibited signs of mental illness (Frankham, 2018). For those with severe mental illness who are unable to afford or find treatment, the risk of being killed by an officer of the law is 16 times greater than for other citizens (Fuller, et al., 2015). Research shows mental health was a leading factor in as many as one out of every two fatal police encounters (Fuller, et al., 2015).

Discussion: This review showed the pervasiveness of police brutality in the United States and the effect on surrounding communities. These studies also show that both race and mental health status are significant factors in police brutality. In response to these statistics, researchers have begun to examine alternative methods of policing. This paper examines current research on the use and effectiveness of mobile crisis teams. These teams typically pair a mental health professional with a paramedic. More research on these response teams is necessary in order to deem them as evidence based. 

Article Details

Literature Reviews
Author Biographies

Reese Armstrong

About the author: Reese Armstrong is a junior at the School of Social Work and works for the
Cline Center for Advanced Social Research. He anticipates receiving his BSW in 2023. His
research interests are mainly in mental health and development as well as in social justice.

Nicole Cantoni

About the author: Nicole Cantoni, MSW, is a PhD candidate in Social Work, hoping to receive her degree in 2023. Her research interests are Animal Assisted Interventions and simulations to aid in teaching
social work.