Failure on the Front Line: How the Americans With Disabilities Act should be Interpreted to Better Protect Persons in Mental Health Crisis from Fatal Police Shootings

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Alexis Campbell is a member of the Columbia Law School Class of 2020.

This Note examines Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s (“Title II”) effectiveness at protecting persons experiencing mental illness from being fatally shot by police officers. Since its adoption in the 1990s, federal courts have interpreted the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide varying levels of protection to persons experiencing mental illness. While some courts have interpreted Title II to require that police officers provide reasonable accommodations for an individual’s mental illness when effectuating an arrest, others have held that any such accommodation would be unreasonable. Although not required by any court, police departments throughout the United States have adopted programs such as the Crisis Intervention Team (“CIT”) training model to train police officers on how to best respond during encounters with persons experiencing a mental illness or mental health crisis. Using data derived from the Washington Post’s Fatal Force Database and a record of existing CIT training programs, this Note analyzes the effectiveness of Title II and the CIT model at protecting persons in mental health crisis from fatal police shootings. In particular, this Note explores whether the application of Title II to arrests alone, the widespread implementation of CIT programs alone, or the application of Title II to arrests in jurisdictions that implement CIT programs best protects persons in mental health crisis from fatal police shootings.

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