Half of people killed by police suffer from mental disability: Report

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Inside The Laquan McDonald Shooting

Almost half of the people who die at the hands of police have some kind of disability, according to a new report, as officers are often drawn into emergencies where urgent care may be more appropriate than lethal force.

The report, published by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability organization, proposes that while police interactions with minorities draw increasing scrutiny, disability and health considerations are still neglected in media coverage and law enforcement policy.

"Police have become the default responders to mental health calls," write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long, who analyzed incidents from 2013 to 2015. They propose that "people with psychiatric disabilities" are presumed to be "dangerous to themselves and others" in police interactions.

The report wades directly into the racial debates over policing, noting that while coverage of police brutality cases has understandably "focused on race," that lens can also obscure how disability also factors into police interactions.

Take one of the most discussed recent police brutality cases -- the Chicago Police shooting of LaQuan McDonald, a black teenager killed while acting erratically and holding a knife. Prosecutors took the unusual step of charging an officer with first degree murder, noting McDonald did not pose a lethal threat to the officers who had surrounded him. When video of the shooting was released, it sparked the resignation of Chicago's police chief resigned and national debate over race and policing.

RELATED: More on the LaQuan McDonald case

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Laquan McDonald shooting, Jason Van Dyke
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Half of people killed by police suffer from mental disability: Report
Laquan McDonald (R) walks on a road before he was shot 16 times by police officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago, in this still image taken from a police vehicle dash camera video shot on October 20, 2014, and released by Chicago Police on November 24, 2015. Van Dyke, a white Chicago policeman was charged on Tuesday with murdering black teenager McDonald, a prosecution that was speeded up in hopes of staving off a fresh burst of the turmoil over race and police use of deadly force that has shaken the U.S. for more than a year. REUTERS/Chicago Police Department/Handout via Reuters TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY.
CHICAGO, IL - UNDATED: In this handout provided by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke poses for a mugshot photo after he was was arrested for the shooting death of an African-American teen in Chicago, Illinois. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014 after responding to a call of a knife wielding man who had threatened the complainant and was attempting to break into vehicles in a trucking yard. (Photo by Cook County State's Attorney's Office via Getty Images)
A memorial to 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and other victims of violence at the Sullivan House Alternative High School in Chicago is seen on April 17, 2015. McDonald was shot 16 times by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke in October 2014. A judge has ordered the video of the shooting to be made public. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke arrives at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, to possibly face charges for the killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 24: Dan Herbert, lawyer for Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke, speaks to the press following a bond hearing for Van Dyke at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building on November 24, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014 after responding to a call of a knife wielding man who had threatened the complainant and was attempting to break into vehicles in a trucking yard. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 24: Dan Herbert, lawyer for Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke, speaks to the press following a bond hearing for Van Dyke at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building on November 24, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014 after responding to a call of a knife wielding man who had threatened the complainant and was attempting to break into vehicles in a trucking yard. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 24: Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez leaves after speaking to the media about Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke following a bond hearing for Van Dyke at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building on November 24, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Van Dyke has been charged with first degree murder for shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times on October 20, 2014 after responding to a call of a knife wielding man who had threatened the complainant and was attempting to break into vehicles in a trucking yard. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke sits in the courtroom during a hearing in his shooting case of Laquan McDonald at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/Pool File Photo
A wreath with the words "Rest In Peace Laquan McDonald" stands at the site where the 17-year-old McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in an October 2014 incident on the west side of Chicago, Illinois November 24, 2015. Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bond until he is due back in court on November 30. REUTERS/Frank Polich
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 20: In this still image taken from a police vehicle dash camera relased by the Chicago Police Department on November 24, 2015 , Laquan McDonald falls to the ground after being shot by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke on October 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Officer Van Dyke was charged with first degree murder for the October 20, 2014 shooting in which McDonald was hit with 16 bullets. (Photo by Chicago Police Department via Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 24: Demonstrators march through downtown following the release of a video showing Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke shooting and killing Laquan McDonald on November 24, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Van Dyke was charged today with first degree murder for the October 20, 2014 shooting in which McDonald was hit with 16 bullets. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 07: Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Laquan McDonald by a Chicago police officer outside the mayor's office in City Hall on December7, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old McDonald on October 20, 2014, hitting him with 16 bullets. Van Dyke was charged with murder more than a year after the shooting following a judge's orders to release to the public a police video of the shooting. Today, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Justice Department will open an investigation into the Chicago Police Department. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18 : Chicago police officers surround a police vehicle as they watch demonstrators protesting the fatal police shooting of Laquan McDonald December 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. Former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, who was charged with murder last month in the shooting death of 17-year-old McDonald last year, was indicted on six counts of first-degree murder and one count of official misconduct earlier this week. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 31: Demonstrators calling the resignation of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stage a 'die-in' inside of City Hall on December 31, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The shooting deaths by police of a 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier and his 55-year-old neighbor Bettie Jones and a recently released video showing the shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police officer Jason Van Dyke have sparked dozens of protests in the city. Yesterday Emanuel announced several changes that would take place in the police department with the hope of preventing future incidents. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
during protests in Chicago, Illinois November 24, 2015 reacting to the release of a police video of the 2014 shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white policeman, Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke was charged with murder in the incident. REUTERS/Jim Young
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF DEATH OR INJURY Laquan McDonald walks on a road (top L -R) and is subsequently shot (bottom R) by police officer Jason Van Dyke (not pictured) in Chicago, in this combination of still images taken from a police vehicle dash camera video shot on October 20, 2014, and released by Chicago Police on November 24, 2015. Van Dyke, a white Chicago policeman was charged on Tuesday with murdering black teenager McDonald, a prosecution that was speeded up in hopes of staving off a fresh burst of the turmoil over race and police use of deadly force that has shaken the U.S. for more than a year. REUTERS/Chicago Police Department/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY. TEMPLATE OUT TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A protester demonstrates in response to the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois, November 25, 2015. Laquan McDonald, 17, was fatally shot by Jason Van Dyke, a Chicago police officer, in October 2014. REUTERS/Andrew Nelles
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There was far less focus, however, on McDonald's health. According to a later investigation by the Chicago Tribune, McDonald suffered from PTSD and "complex mental health problems."

That reality may be relevant to his conduct the night of his death -- and ways the police might have de-escalated the interaction.

According to law enforcement experts, it is crucial that officers precisely evaluate the problems a suspect may be experiencing.

"Officers are action-oriented people," says Jim Cavanaugh, a former federal agent and MSNBC analyst. "The training always has to be a slow evaluation -- if possible."

If other mechanisms to help people with disabilities or mental illness have failed, Cavanaugh suggested, often its police who end up facing that breakdown in an emergency scenario.

The report also cites the tragic example of Ethan Saylor, a 26-year-old with Down syndrome who was simply trying to spend a day at the movies when he was killed in 2013.

Saylor had purchased a ticket to see "Zero Dark Thirty," but when he tried to stay in the theater for a second showing of the movie, he got into an altercation with the theater's security.

Saylor was unarmed, and three off-duty Frederick County deputies, working as security guards, restrained and dragged him from the theater until he died of asphyxiation.

Saylor could be heard screaming "mommy, mommy," "it hurts," according to a lawsuit filed by his family. Authorities ruled the death a homicide. A Maryland grand jury declined, however, to indict the officers.

RELATED: More about the Ethan Saylor case

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Ethan Saylor
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Half of people killed by police suffer from mental disability: Report
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: Photographs of Ethan Saylor as he was growing up adorn a side table in the dining room of Patti Saylor's home Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six year old with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: Amid laughter and tears, Patti Saylor, 55, talks about her son, Ethan, Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six year old man with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: Some of the items Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six year old with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him, collected are photographed Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: Emma Saylor and her mother, Patti Saylor talk about Ethan Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six year old with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images) (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: Emma Saylor, 23, shows the tattoo she got in her brother Ethan's writing Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. Her brother, Ethan, a twenty-six year old with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MT. AIRY, MD - JULY 16: The Saylor family from left, Patti,55, Ron, 55, Emma, 23, and Adam, 21, pose for a portrait Tuesday July 16, 2013 in Mt. Airy, MD. Some of Ethan's ashes are in the urn on the right side of the mantel. Ethan Saylor, a twenty-six year old with Down syndrome, died of asphyxia after he refused to leave a movie theater and the three off-duty deputies restrained him. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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The report compares Saylor's case to several other instances where police used force on non-compliant individuals with Down syndrome. The implication is that using force to address compliance - an option in conventional policing -- is counterproductive without careful attention to a suspect's health or cognitive abilities.

The authors recommend police adopt specific training to address people with disabilities, and they argue that public discussion of police brutality should consider the intersection of disability, class and race in scrutinizing police use of force.

Some police departments are experimenting with new approaches. In August, Phoenix Police launched an entire squad, the Crisis Intervention Team, devoted to responding to emergencies that involve mental health issues.

RELATED: The most violent cities across America

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Most dangerous, violent cities in each state
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Half of people killed by police suffer from mental disability: Report

43. Honolulu, Hawaii had 11.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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42. Boise, Idaho had 13.5 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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41. Fargo, North Dakota had 14.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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40. Eugene, Oregon had 15.3 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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39. Lincoln, Nebraska had 17.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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38. Sioux Falls, South Dakota had 20.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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37. Billings, Montana had 21.1 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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36. Norfolk, Virginia had 24.5 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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35. Providence, Rhode Island had 26.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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34. Manchester, New Hampshire had 28.9 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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33. Louisville, Kentucky had 30.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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32. South Bend, Indiana had 32.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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31. Tucson, Arizona had 32.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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30. North Charleston, South Carolina had 34.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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29. Tacoma, Washington had 36.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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28. Salt Lake City, Utah had 38.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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27. Des Moines, Iowa had 38.7 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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26. Pueblo, Colorado had 41.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

 Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

25. Tulsa, Oklahoma had 41.5 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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24. New Orleans, Louisiana had 42.7 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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23. Durham, North Carolina had 42.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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22. Jackson, Mississippi had 43.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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21. North Las Vegas, Nevada had 43.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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20. Wichita, Kansas had 45.5 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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19. Albuquerque, New Mexico had 48.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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18. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had 49.1 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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17. Buffalo, New York had 50.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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16. Newark, New Jersey had 50.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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15. Odessa, Texas had 51.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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14. Tallahassee, Florida had 52.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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13. Anchorage, Alaska had 53.6 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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12. Springfield, Massachusetts had 54.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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11. Atlanta, Georgia had 55.7 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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10. Hartford, Connecticut had 55.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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9. Cleveland, Ohio had 61.5 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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8. Milwaukee, Wisconsin had 65.3 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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7. Stockton, California had 67.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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6. Baltimore, Maryland had 67.7 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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5. Rockford, Illinois had 76.3 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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4. Birmingham, Alabama had 82.8 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

(Photo by Sean Pavone via Alamy)

3. Detroit, Michigan had 83.4 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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2. Memphis, Tennessee had 84.2 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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1. St. Louis, Missouri had 88.1 violent crimes per 10,000 residents.

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The initiative grew out of concerns that in Phoenix, roughly one out of ten officer-involved shootings were of suspects with mental illness. There was also intense local outrage after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michelle Cusseaux, a woman who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Police came to Cusseaux's house to transfer her to a mental health facility, under a court's orders, but when she allegedly charged at an officer with a hammer, he shot her dead.

Many criticized the incident as an avoidable escalation, and an example of a scenario where police need better preparation to address a foreseeable disability emergency.

Most Americans Think Shootings Are Now the Norm

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