More than 80% of people who die in confrontations with police have a history of psychiatric illness or were behaving erratically at the time, a new report has found.
Bureau Beke looked at 50 incidents between 2016 and 2020 in which a person died after being shot or restrained by police. In 42 cases there were signs of disturbed behaviour, often under the influence of drink or drugs.
Criminologist Hans Ferwerda, one of the report’s authors, gave the example of a man who was shot seven times after he was seen threatening passers-by with a weapon on the street.
Officers shouted at him to stop and opened fire after he ran towards them ‘screaming, with a haggard expression, and waving the weapon above his head’. After his death he was found to be suffering from schizophrenia.
‘These are very often not criminals but people in need of help,’ Ferwerda said. He said medical support teams rather than the police should be the first responders when people are reported to be behaving erratically in public.
The report drew a contrast with non-fatal confrontations with police, which tend to happen at night and involve people aged between 18 and 27. Fatal incidents were more likely to take place in daylight, while the victims had an average age of 35.
Altogether 41 of the 50 victims studied had problems with mental illness, relationships or their financial situation, while more than half had previously been in contact with social services.
A quarter of victims were homeless and 82% had a minority ethnic background, but Ferwerda said ethnic profiling was not the cause. ‘The police are more likely to deal with socially vulnerable people in our society,’ he said. ‘We can see that 30 years ago there were more people without a migrant background at the lower end of society than today.’
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