A Cry for Help

Number 27866
Subject Police
Source Minneapolis Star-Tribune
State Minnesota
Year 2016
Publication Date June 5, 6, 7
Summary The trend was unmistakable. Minnesotans who were suicidal or otherwise having a mental health crisis were dying in confrontations with police. The Star Tribune decided to go beyond the anecdotes and develop the first comprehensive database of individuals killed after encounters with police in Minnesota. An exhaustive analysis of death certificate data, news accounts, police reports and other records revealed a powerful statistic: 45 percent of those who died in forceful encounters with police were in crisis or had a history of mental illness. The number was even more stark for 2015: nine of 13 killed fell into that category. The Star Tribune multimedia project “A Cry for Help” showed the collision of a broken mental health system with law enforcement, the responders of last resort. While questions of police conduct and use of force have revolved around race, one advocacy group estimated that mentally ill people are 16 times more likely to die in a police encounter than others. Our team faced the challenge of how to tell this story in a fresh and engaging way. They did it by obtaining extraordinary access to individuals: A cop who had killed two people, each of whom threatened him amid their mental breakdowns. The mother of a young mentally ill man killed by police who now advocates for better training. A man who tried to commit suicide by cop whose survival demonstrates how these situations don’t have to end in tragedy. These narratives were enhanced by hard-fought access to dozens of police case files that included powerful police video footage of a St. Paul standoff in 2015. The project also quantified, for the first time, the stories of every person who died in an encounter with police since 2000, and that database is now continually updated on the Star Tribune website.
Category IRE Contest Entry
Pages
Keywords police; mental health; death
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