Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Criminal Justice



First Advisor

Jon M. Shane

Second Reader

Peter Moskos

Third Advisor

Jeff Mellow


Fatal use of force incidents involving police officers in the United States have recently seen widespread media attention, emotionally charged rhetoric, and calls for reform. The present study examines police use of force encounters with the mentally ill given the significant proportion of incidents and wanting body of literature. The objective of this study is to examine fatal police interactions to test whether those displaying signs of mental illness in encounters with law enforcement are more dangerous than those not displaying signs of mental illness. Open source data from the Washington Post were used from 2015 to 2018 (n=3942) due to the lack of a government sponsored national, incident-level database. Data were analyzed to describe these shootings, in addition to statewide mental health resilience and risk factors from 2015 to 2017. The results suggest those displaying signs of mental illness are less likely to attack or flee police, but were more likely to possess a weapon and present an imminent threat to law enforcement. Furthermore, linear regression identified significant, positive state level risk factors such as firearm mortality rates and suicide rates, that when analyzed with fatal use of force rates, hold limited predictive validity to the overall prevalence of shootings. Future research should better capture prevalence of mental illness across the United States and continue to expand on the microenvironmental factors of shootings rather than the sociodemographic variables.



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