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Inadequate Guidance and Training

The lack of sufficient mental health training:

In former sergeant of Akron, Ohio Police Department Michael Woody’s home state of Ohio, education on handling mental illness is grouped in with 16 hours of disabilities training, which covers a broad range of conditions from blindness and epilepsy to schizophrenia. Woody says that “officers need much more specialized training to help them de-escalate situations involving the mentally ill.”1 Thus, since training that involves dealing with mental health crises is often so broad and limited, it may not be sufficient enough when translated to use for real-life crises.

Woody’s statement is supported by several surveys of officers which suggest that they themselves “do not feel adequately trained to effectively respond to mental heath crises.”2

Further, despite crisis-intervention being a significant component of dealing with mental health calls, the Treatment Advocacy Center found that in 45% of the police agencies polled, “the majority of officers haven’t received crisis-intervention training.”3 Click CIT under the solutions tab for more information regarding CIT training and its benefits.


The disparity in mental health training between states: 

Most police departments do not have extensive training or education when it comes to dealing with mental health crises. Required hours for mental health training vary dramatically from state to state, and even between counties within states.4 Training ranges from the state of Hawaii, where there are 0 hours of required mental health training for officers, to the state of Florida, where there are 40 hours of required mental health training for officers while still in the police academy.5


The contribution of the flexible nature and various interpretation of current mental health policies to both the lack of sufficient mental health training and its disparity between states:

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990 aims to protect people with qualifying disabilities from discriminatory treatment by providing “’clear, strong [and] consistent…standards’ that are federally enforceable.”6 The ADA defines a disability (as later specified by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) as a physical or mental impairment that limits major life activities of an individual, including any “mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.”7 This definition by the ADA suggests that many people with mental illness have a qualifying disability under this act, thus being entitled to its protections. 

The ADA is divided into 5 titles that provide protections for individuals with qualifying disabilities in their interactions with both state/local governments and private sectors.8 The first 3 titles are most relevant to the topic of mental health training and policies in police departments:

  • Title I of the ADA “prohibits employers, employment agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against individuals with qualifying disabilities.”9

  • Title II of the ADA “prohibits state or local governments or governmental departments or agencies from excluding persons with qualifying disabilities from or denying them the benefits of ‘the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.’”10

  • Title III of the ADA “prohibits discrimination ‘on the basis of disability in the full an equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases, or operates a place of public accommodation.”11


Thus, under the ADA, police departments can be required to provide reasonable accommodations to people experiencing mental illness regardless of whether they implement CIT training programs. Since law enforcement agencies are governmental organizations, they are required under Title II of the ADA to “’make reasonable modifications to their policies, practices, and procedures in order to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.”12

  • Under Title II of the ADA, plaintiffs may file a wrongful arrest claim if police officers “wrongly arrest someone with a disability because they misperceive the effects of that disability as criminal activity.” Plaintiffs may also file a reasonable accommodation claim if although police arrested someone for a crime unrelated to their disability, they “fail[ed] to reasonably accommodate the person’s disability in the course of the investigation or arrest.”13


However, despite the ADA’s protections for individuals with mental illness, the act “offers more protections for qualifying physical disabilities than for mental illness.”14 This is due to factors such as the fact that persons with mental illness may not know their rights, or maybe unable to communicate their needs to officers. Further, officers may not always be able to identify a person as experiencing mental illness (especially due to limited mental health training), and the person may further not be able to articulate their illness.15

Due to the complicated nature of such challenges that arise from police encounters with persons experiencing mental illness, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has offered some recommendations on how to accommodate such persons in these situations. One such recommendation is for police officers to check that an individual understands their commands (when officers are aware that the individual has a mental illness). For example, “when issuing Miranda warnings, police officers are advised to ‘ask the individual to repeat each phrase.’”16

Despite the DOJ emphasizing officer training when responding to mental health crises and recognizing that “CIT training programs provide tools to respond to…mental health crisis,” the DOJ “has not established a national training program or national guidelines on providing reasonable accommodations to persons experiencing mental illness.”17

Paralleling this lack of established required training or guidelines from the DOJ, no federal courts have considered Title II to require police departments to provide CIT or mental health training to police officers. Further, “some courts have held that Title II does not even require CIT-trained officers to be dispatched in response to mental health calls.“18

  • This is seen in Hamilton v. City of Fort Wayne, in which the plaintiff held that Title II required CIT trained officers to respond to her call regarding assistance with her mentally ill son. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana rejected this argument, maintaining that “waiting for a CIT-trained officer ‘would potentially implicate other safety concerns that might have been avoided by the efforts of officers already on the scene.’”19 Thus, even if counties do have CIT training for officers, Title II of the ADA does not require departments to provision these trained officers in response to mental health calls. 


Although the ADA promises protection for individuals with mental illness, federal courts are divided on whether Title II applies to arrests since it “does not outline which government activities are covered by its mandates.”20

  • In Sheehan v. City and County of San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit determined that Title II applies to arrests, agreeing with Sheehan’s argument that training lapses by officers marked a failure to reasonably accommodate her qualifying disability under Title II. Click Escalation under the Problems tab to learn more about the Teresa Sheehan case.21

  • In Bircoll v. Miami-Dade County, the Eleventh Circuit determined that due to the presence of exigent circumstances, it would not have been reasonable to accommodate the plaintiff’s deafness (by providing an interpreter before performing a field sobriety test).22 This supports the idea that officers are not required under Title II to accommodate a person’s disability if doing so is deemed unreasonable. 

  • In Hainze v. Richards, Hainze’s aunt made a 911 call requesting for police officers to transport her suicidal nephew to a hospital for mental health treatment, informing the dispatcher that Hainze had threatened to commit “suicide by cop” and that he was armed. When Hainze refused to drop his knife after being instructed to do so by officers after they found him, the officers shot him twice in the chest. Hainze survived and brought suit against the police, but the Fifth Court held that because officers hadn’t ensured their own safety yet, they were not under any obligation to accommodate Hainze’s mental illness until the area was secured and there was no longer a safety threat.23


Though most departments do recognize the value of mental health training, many lack essential funding in order to provide this training: 

Since departments have to balance varying training programs, incorporating mental health training can be difficult, especially for smaller departments. The biggest “cost” of mental health training is paying overtime to fill shifts for officers who are “taken off the street” in order to attend training.24

1. “When Cop Calls Involve the Mentally Ill, Training Is Key.” NPR, NPR, 14 June 2014, 

2. Watson, Amy C, and Anjali J Fulambarker. “The Crisis Intervention Team Model of Police Response to Mental Health Crises: A Primer for Mental Health Practitioners.” Best practices in mental health vol. 8,2 (2012): 71.

3. Elinson, Zusha. When Mental Health Experts Not Police Are the First ... The Wall Street Journal, 24 Nov. 2018, 

4. Hanna, Andrew C. “Municipal Liability and Police Training for Mental Illness: Causes of Action and Feasible Solutions.” Indiana Health Law Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 2017, p. 221.,

5. Ibid.

6. Campbell, Alexis. “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.” Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 2019,

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Hanna, Andrew C. “Municipal Liability and Police Training for Mental Illness: Causes of Action and Feasible Solutions.” Indiana Health Law Review, vol. 14, no. 2, 2017, p. 221.,


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