Again and again the data show that people of color in the U.S. are disproportionately, and systematically, stopped, frisked, arrested, and exposed to the use of force by police. Police departments and communities across the U.S. are struggling with these realities and with what has become a glaring divide in how Americans experience and relate to policing. This special collection includes research from nonprofits, foundations, and university based research centers, who have not only described and documented the issue but who also provide much-needed recommendations for addressing this chronic and tragic problem.

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Alternative Dispatch Programs: A Strategy for Improving Emergency Responses and Reducing Police Violence

June 4, 2021

Approximately 240 million calls are made to 911 every year in the United States. Only a small fraction of these calls are for serious or violent crimes. Even in communities with high homicide rates such as Baltimore, Camden, New Haven, and New Orleans, fewer than 4 percent of 911 calls are related to violent crimes. Instead, the majority of these calls are related to incidents of disorderly conduct, noise complaints, suspicious people or cars, mental health issues, substance use, and homelessness.Programs that deploy public health professionals and crisis workers to situations involving mental health, substance use, and homelessness—referred to as alternative dispatch programs—offer an emerging solution that can save lives and provide critical services to those in need. Alternative dispatch programs utilize first responders who are specifically trained to resolve the emergencies that most commonly arise in communities with methods that address root problems and minimize the risk of force or deeper involvement with the justice system. These programs provide communities with a critical means for addressing crises, while also freeing police to focus on preventing and solving serious crimes.

Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters

December 1, 2015

An estimated 7.9 million adults in the United States live with a severe mental illness that disorders their thinking. Treatment in most cases can control psychiatric symptoms common to these diseases, but the system that once delivered psychiatric care for them has been systematically dismantled over the last half-century. Today, half the population with these diseases is not taking medication or receiving other care on any given day.Individuals with mental illness also make up a disproportionate number of those killed at the very first step of the criminal justice process: while being approached or stopped by law enforcement in the community. Enormous official and public attention has become focused on the official undercounting of fatal police shootings; barely noted in the uproar has been the role of severe mental illness – a medical condition that, when treated, demonstrably reduces the likelihood of interacting with police or being arrested, much less dying in the process.By all accounts – official and unofficial – a minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness. 

Data Gaps

Impact of Disproportionate Incarceration of & Violence Against Black People with Mental Health Conditions

August 8, 2014

People from racial minorities who have mental health conditions are routinely routed to the criminal justice system instead of to alternative, community-based programs shown to better address their needs. Based on extensive community outreach, Dignity and Power Now seeks to highlight race-based disparities in treatment of persons with mental health conditions in Los Angeles (LA) County Jails. The largest jail system in the United States and the world, LA County Jails are often referred to as the nation's largest de-facto mental health hospital warehousing approximately 19,000 pre-sentenced and sentenced individuals. Despite an alarming lack of data on mental health conditions ofpeople from racial minorities held in LA County Jails, increasing numbers of testimonies reveal that the provision of mental health services– where available – is impacted by the race of the prisoner, while lack of access to mental health services leads to incarceration.