My study indicates a small upward trend in firearms confrontations between the significantly mentally ill (e.g. bipolar, dementia, schizophrenia, etc.) and the police in 2011. Several of these offenders have been relatively stable for a number of years before experiencing a traumatic change. One bipolar offender (who I will call "JK"), lived with his elderly parents for over fifteen years after becoming unable to work. When they moved into a nursing home, JK became unstable. Less than two weeks later, he killed a police officer while in a delusional state. JK fired on police who responded to his home to investigate a series of disturbances. After killing one police officer, JK barricaded himself in his home for several hours before emerging with a rifle. He walked towards police officers while loading the rifle and ignoring commands to drop the weapon, essentially committing "suicide by cop." Certainly, the tragedy is equal for both the officer and the offender's family, as JK was also killed. I believe his destabilization was the direct result of losing the day-to-day support of his parents, who had long cared for him and ensured he took his medication regularly. Did his illness play a role in his death? I believe the answer is: yes.
A second case involved an offender I will call "CK." CK was a diagnosed schizophrenic; her mother and primary support caregiver passed away in December 2008, resulting in a very different life in the two years before CK committed murder. CK had been off her medication for about three months when a police officer attempted a traffic stop on her vehicle. CK unexpectedly opened fire, killing the officer, and sped away, pursued by police. Once she surrendered, she told investigators that the officer fired at her first; however, the officer never fired a single shot. Later investigation revealed the police had contacted CK on a noise disturbance call just one week before the shooting. Their response: according the media, they did nothing because it was clear that CK was mentally ill. Unfortunately, the consequences of inaction were deadly, in this case. Again, the failure to treat the illness created the situation-- not the police officer or his tactics.
A disclaimer: I have no bias or ignorance on the issue of mental illness. As a cop for ten years, I was privileged to help many citizens who were in crisis, suicidal, and/or homicidal with both tenderness and firmness. I also have close family members who have struggled with mental illness who I love deeply and would never ridicule or demean. When I have questions about mental illness, I consult an experienced, Ph.D.-level mental health professional with decades of experience who has devoted her life's work to caring for the mentally ill. I care deeply for all human beings who are affected by mental illness, as those who know me personally can confirm.
What are your thoughts on the issue of mental illness and violence against police?