Our Grants

Police Responses to Mental Health Crises

Overview

Two complementary postdoctoral positions will use data from the National Violent Death System (NVDRS) to estimate how frequently and under what circumstances (1) individuals commit suicide during encounters with police and (2) individuals who have mental health problems or suicidal thinking are killed by police.

Status

Awarded

Purpose

Each year many hundreds of suicides occur when police are present and many hundreds of civilians who are killed by police have mental health problems, but almost nothing is known about the actual number or the circumstances of either of these events. This study aims to fill that void.

Approach

The NVDRS captures all U.S. suicides and virtually all homicides by police. However, it does not regularly identify suicides during police encounters. It does however provide narratives of all events from both the medical examiner and the police, that we will text search for key words such as police, officer, sheriff. From reading the narratives we will also code items that are not currently data elements, such as the reason for initial contact and who initiated the contact. The key will be to categorize and present findings in a way that is most useful for practitioners.

Significance

Black Lives Matter protests and the upcoming roll-out of 988 for mental health emergencies have led to questions about whether, when and how to involve police as first responders to mental health crises. Our studies will provide vital, but currently unknown, information for municipalities rethinking their crisis response plans.

Investigator Bios

David Hemenway (mentor) has been a leader at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) for over 35 years. He is the author of five books and 260 journal articles. His awards include a CDC Leadership award as one of the twenty "most influential injury and violence professionals over the past 20 years" and a Commissioner's Commendation from the Boston Police Department "in recognition of exemplary police services." He has won 10 Harvard teaching awards.

Deborah Azrael (mentor) is director of research of HICRC. She has over 25 years' experience conducting and leading grant-funded research on firearm violence, injury surveillance and suicide prevention, and has written 140 journal articles on firearm issues. She was named by The Trace (the daily free online gun newspaper) as one of the ten Americans who shaped the gun debate in 2015.

Grant Amount
$100,000
Award Type
Postdoctoral
Organization
Harvard Injury Control Research Center
Investigator
Postdoctoral scholars to be confirmed
Expected Completion Date
June 2023
Awarded
2022
Focus Areas
Gun Suicide
Officer-Involved Shootings