Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Police Violence against People with Mental Disabilities: The Immutable Duty under the ADA to Reasonable Accommodate during Arrest


Carly A. Myers


The circumstances of Teresa's police encounter are, tragically, not unusual. Although she survived her arrest, people with severe mental illness are at least sixteen times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other individuals. Given the documented role of mental illness in fatal police shootings, amending police response tactics and increasing mental health training is critical. A high arrest rate and lack of appropriate police procedures contribute to the disproportionate injury and death of people with mental illness during arrest. Roughly ten percent of police calls involve a person with mental illness," and such individuals are seven times more likely to be arrested than the general population. Misperceptions of mental illness, greater incidences of homelessness and substance abuse, along with inadequate police training, community support, and affordable mental health treatment, result in this comparatively high arrest rate. Additionally, there are numerous barriers inhibiting proper police response, including a lack of sufficient training to identify and accommodate mental disabilities, resource and time constraints, and the widespread misperception that "persons with a mental illness are more prone to violence." These factors-coupled with an untreated illness-can and do lead to heartbreaking results for everyone involved.