Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand says ART trials must stop

14 Nov, 2019


The Mental Health Foundation strongly opposes the introduction of armed police to Aotearoa New Zealand due to well-founded concerns that guns will disproportionately be used against individuals experiencing mental health crises.

“We’ve been here before when Police proposed the introduction of Tasers more than 10 years ago,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. “The Foundation repeatedly warned police, the Government and the public about international evidence suggesting Tasers would be disproportionately used against people experiencing mental illness.

“These warnings were not heeded. In 2016, police officers were found to have discharged Tasers in 25% of all cases involving an individual with mental illness, but only 16.6% of cases involving others. Recent figures indicate this trend has continued.

“This is an urgent concern and so far, we have had no indication that the safety and wellbeing of people experiencing mental distress has been considered by those leading the trials. There is no doubt that more armed officers will result in more deaths and injuries for people experiencing mental health crises. Now, as well as shooting people with Tasers the police will be shooting them with guns.”

The Foundation adds its voice to others with serious concerns about the impact an armed police force will have on Māori, who are overrepresented in our mental illness and suicide statistics. While the New Zealand Police have acknowledged racial bias against Māori, this acknowledgement has had no impact on the number of Māori being arrested or approached by police, and two thirds of individuals shot by police in the last decade were Māori or Pasifika.

Police officers attended around 43,000 mental health callouts last year. They are frequently in contact with our most vulnerable and distressed members of society. Over-stretched services continue to rely on Police to respond to people in the community in crisis, but police receive inadequate training and support to do so safely and compassionately. The potential introduction of guns to these interactions can only decrease the safety and likelihood of a good outcome for both those who are mentally unwell and for police themselves.

Myths about people who live with mental illness continue to thrive in Aotearoa. Many people still believe people who experience mental illness are violent, dangerous and unpredictable. The Police are not immune to these attitudes – these ingrained prejudices help to drive disproportionate use of force against people in mental health crises.

“We cannot keep saying we want to normalise mental health, want people to share their experiences and ask for help while implementing policies and practises that undermine their safety and their human rights,” Mr Robinson says.

The police justification for armed police is also based on myths rather than facts. As Emilie Rākete pointed out, statistics show that police in New Zealand report fewer injuries than bartenders and assaults on Police involving a firearm have not increased in the last four years – in fact, they have decreased

International evidence provides reason for extreme concern that people who are mentally unwell have a far greater risk of being killed by armed law enforcement officers than others. In the US, the risk of being killed while being approached or stopped by law enforcement is 16 times higher for individuals with ‘untreated serious mental illness’ than for other members of the community. One in four fatal law enforcement encounters involves an individual with serious mental illness – some studies have found as many as half of all law enforcement homicides result in the death of someone who lives with serious mental illness. 

study comparing gun violence in Australia, Britain and the US found not only were Australian police “too ready to use gun violence against the mentally ill,” but the fewer people (including police officers) who have access to firearms, the safer that community is.

“These concerns cannot be alleviated,” Mr Robinson says. “We simply do not have the resourcing or even the knowledge to combat and reverse bias against people who experience mental illness and bias against Māori and other minorities in a way that would ensure their safety in encounters with Police. There is no way an armed police force can be introduced to New Zealand without increasing harm to our most vulnerable people and there is no justification for taking this massive risk. This trial must be stopped.”

For further information or comment, contact:

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand
Mobile: 021 998 949 


Ajilore, O. (2017). Mental health, race, and deadly use of force (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 2927829). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website:
This study explored the relationship between suspected mental illness and officer-involved shootings, using data from an independently sourced database. The results showed that African Americans were more likely to be victims of fatal officer-involved shootings, and this likelihood increased for those who displayed signs of mental illness. These findings highlight two important issues: the collection of data regarding officer-involved shootings should include details regarding signs of mental illness, and documentation of the type of mental health issues involved in these incidents should be improved. 

DeVylder, J. E., Jun, H.-J., Fedina, L., Coleman, D., Anglin, D., Cogburn, C., … Barth, R. P. (2018). Association of exposure to police violence with prevalence of mental health symptoms among urban residents in the United States. JAMA Network Open, 1(7), e184945–e184945.
Importance: Police violence is reportedly widespread in the United States and may pose a significant risk to public mental health. To examine the association between 12-month exposure to police violence and concurrent mental health symptoms independent of trauma history, crime involvement, and other forms of interpersonal violence exposure. This cross-sectional, general population survey study of 1221 eligible adults was conducted in Baltimore, Maryland, and New York City, New York, from October through December 2017. Participants were identified through Qualtrics panels, an internet-based survey administration service using quota sampling Past 12-month exposure to police violence, assessed using the Police Practices Inventory. Subtypes of violence exposure were coded according to the World Health Organization domains of violence (ie, physical, sexual, psychological, and neglectful). Main Outcomes and Measures Current Kessler Screening Scale for Psychological Distress (K6) score, past 12-month psychotic experiences (World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview), and past 12-month suicidal ideation and attempts. Of 1221 eligible participants, there were 1000 respondents (81.9% participation rate). The sample matched the adult population of included cities on race/ethnicity (non-Hispanic white, 339 [33.9%]; non-Hispanic black/African American, 390 [39.0%]; Hispanic/Latino, 178 [17.8%]; other, 93 [9.3%]), age (mean [SD], 39.8 [15.2] years), and gender (women, 600 [60.0%]; men, 394 [39.4%]; transgender, 6 [0.6%]) within 10% above or beyond 2010 census distributions. Twelve-month prevalence of police violence was 3.2% for sexual violence, 7.5% for physical violence without a weapon, 4.6% for physical violence with a weapon, 13.2% for psychological violence, and 14.9% for neglect. Police violence exposures were higher among men, people of color, and those identified as homosexual or transgender. Respondents reported suicidal ideation (9.1%), suicide attempts (3.1%), and psychotic experiences (20.6%). The mean (SD) K6 score was 5.8 (6.1). All mental health outcomes were associated with police violence exposure in adjusted logistic regression analyses. Physical violence with a weapon and sexual violence were associated with greater odds of psychotic experiences (odds ratio [95% CI]: 4.34 [2.05-9.18] for physical violence with a weapon; 6.61 [2.52-17.36] for sexual violence), suicide attempts (odds ratio [95% CI]: 7.30 [2.94-18.14] for physical violence with a weapon; 6.63 [2.64-16.64] for sexual violence), and suicidal ideation (odds ratio [95% CI]: 2.72 [1.30-5.68] for physical violence with a weapon; 3.76 [1.72-8.20] for sexual violence). Conclusions and Relevance: Police violence was commonly reported, especially among racial/ethnic and sexual minorities. Associations between violence and mental health outcomes did not appear to be explained by confounding factors and appeared to be especially pronounced for assaultive forms of violence.

Evans, R., Farmer, C., & Saligari, J. (2016). Mental illness and gun violence: lessons for the United States from Australia and Britain. Violence and Gender, 3(3), 150–156.
In the United States, the nexus between mental illness and shootings has been the subject of heated argument. An extreme expression of one point of view is that “guns don’t kill people, the mentally ill do.” This article seeks to demonstrate the falsehood of this argument, by examining the real-world experience of two comparable societies. Australia and Great Britain are both Anglophone nations with numerous points of commonality with the United States, including high rates of mental illness and significant exposure to popular culture that perpetuates the stigma of the mentally ill as a violent threat. However, in Australia, it is difficult to obtain firearms, and a mentally ill person behaving aggressively is unlikely to be able to harm others. On the contrary, police are almost the only people routinely armed in Australian communities and are often too ready to use firearms against the mentally ill. In Britain, guns are even more difficult to obtain, and operational police are not usually armed. The authors examine statistical data on mental illness, homicide, and civilian deaths caused by police in all three nations. They also consider media and popular opinion environments. They conclude that mental illness is prevalent in all three societies, as is the damaging stigma of “the dangerous madman.” However, the fewer people (including police officers) who have access to firearms, the safer that community is.

Frankham, E. (2018). Mental illness affects police fatal shootings. Contexts, 17(2), 70–72.
Police fatally shot almost 2,000 people in the U.S. from the beginning of 2015 to the end of 2016. Much of the news coverage about fatal police encounters has focused on the race of the individuals killed by police, overlooking the fact that a quarter of those killed exhibited signs of mental illness…

Lozada, M. J., & Nix, J. (2019). Validity of details in databases logging police killings. The Lancet, 393(10179), 1412–1413.
Jacob Bor and colleagues (July 28, 2018, p 302)1 found that there was a causal relationship between exposure of black Americans to police killings of unarmed black people and deterioration of their mental health. This is an important research endeavour, but we are concerned the methods used in the study could undermine an important message. The authors used data from the Mapping Police Violence (MPV) database. In these data, citizens holding a toy weapon (eg, pellet gun, air rifle) or “alleged to be armed by the police, but multiple independent witnesses maintain the person was unarmed,” are coded as unarmed.

Morabito, M. S., & Socia, K. M. (2015). Is Dangerousness a Myth? Injuries and police encounters with people with mental illnesses. Criminology & Public Policy, 14(2), 253–276.
Research Summary: This study examined all “use-of-force” reports collected by the Portland Police Bureau in Portland, Oregon, between 2008 and 2011, to determine whether their encounters with people with mental illnesses are more likely to result in injury to officers or subjects when force is used. Although several factors significantly predicted the likelihood of injury to either subjects or officers, mental illness was not one of them. Policy Implications Police consider interactions with people with mental illnesses to be extremely dangerous (Margarita, 1980). Our results question the accuracy of this belief. As such, this “dangerousness” assertion may result in unnecessary stigmatization that may prevent people with mental illnesses from accessing needed services (cf. Corrigan et al., 2005) as witnesses or victims of crime. Policies that reduce stigma may help increase police effectiveness. Furthermore, efforts should be made to increase the availability and accuracy of data on this issue.

Nix, J., Campbell, B. A., Byers, E. H., & Alpert, G. P. (2017). A bird’s eye view of civilians killed by police in 2015: Further evidence of implicit bias. Criminology & Public Policy, 16(1), 309–340.
Research Summary: We analyzed 990 police fatal shootings using data compiled by The Washington Post in 2015. After first providing a basic descriptive analysis of these shootings, we then examined the data for evidence of implicit bias by using multivariate regression models that predict two indicators of threat perception failure: (1) whether the civilian was not attacking the officer(s) or other civilians just before being fatally shot and (2) whether the civilian was unarmed when fatally shot. The results indicated civilians from “other” minority groups were significantly more likely than Whites to have not been attacking the officer(s) or other civilians and that Black civilians were more than twice as likely as White civilians to have been unarmed.  Policy Implications We implore the U.S. government to move forward with its publication of a national police use‐of‐force database, including as much information about the officers involved as possible. We further suggest police departments use training programs and community activities to minimize implicit bias among their officers.

Paddock, E., Jetelina, K. K., Bishopp, S. A., Gabriel, K. P., & Gonzalez, J. M. R. (2019). Factors associated with civilian and police officer injury during 10 years of officer-involved shooting incidents. Injury Prevention
Background: Previous officer-involved shooting (OIS) research has focused primarily on antecedents to fatal shootings, with few studies investigating injury more broadly. Our study examined the factors associated with fatal or non-fatal injury to both civilians and officers during OIS incidents, to better understand how harm might be reduced in the most extreme law enforcement scenarios. Methods Data included 281 officers involved in 177 unique shooting incidents recorded by Dallas Police Department between 2005 and 2015. Bivariate logistic regression and multivariable generalised estimation equation analyses were used to investigate incident characteristics associated with fatal or non-fatal injury to civilians and officers. Results Civilian injury occurred in 61% and officer injury in 14% of unique OIS incidents. In adjusted models, multiple shooting officers increased the odds of injury to both civilians (adjusted OR (AOR): 3.22, 95% CI 1.39 to 7.50) and officers (AOR 4.73, 95% CI 1.64 to 13.65). Odds of civilian injury were also significantly higher during the daytime and among non-Hispanic white compared with non-Hispanic black and Hispanic/Latina/o civilians, although a majority of OIS incidents (79%) involved non-Hispanic black or Hispanic/Latino/a civilians. Odds of officer injury were significantly higher for detectives compared with patrol (AOR=9.32, 95% CI 1.85 to 47.03) and during off-duty versus on-duty shootings (AOR=5.23, 95% CI 1.37 to 19.99). Conclusions Both civilians and officers are at risk for injury during OIS incidents, though to different degrees and with unique risk factors. Additional research is needed to understand whether these results are replicated elsewhere and to further understand the mechanisms of injury.

Petersson, U., Bertilsson, J., Fredriksson, P., Magnusson, M., & Fransson, P.-A. (2017). Police officer involved shootings – retrospective study of situational characteristics. Police Practice and Research, 18(3), 306–321.
The study analyzed the situational characteristics of 112 incidents where police used firearms to handle high threat situations. Most shooting incidents emanated from usually uneventful tasks, e.g., handling burglaries or disturbances. The assailants were commonly armed with firearms (26%), sharp (27%) or blunt objects (10%). The incidents were regularly short-lasting (in 39% were shots fired ≤3 s from threat emerged) and occurred at short distances (in 42% at distances ≤3 m). Predominantly, the first responders had to address the situation and did so with warning shots or, equally common, with fire-for-effect shots (40%) or a combination thereof. Psychological stress was manifested as feelings of panic at some point and as motor skill alterations, e.g., firing without using sights and with one hand only. Analysis of these incidents shows that all field duty police officers should receive training in handling potentially life-threatening, sudden, close-range attacks.

Robertson, A. G. (2015). Building on the evidence: Guiding policy and research on police encounters with persons with mental illnesses. Criminology & Public Policy, 14(2), 285–293.

Soomro, S., & Yanos, P. T. (2019). Predictors of mental health stigma among police officers: The role of trauma and ptsd. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 34(2), 175–183.
Police officers are both at risk of exposure to trauma and experiencing PTSD and are more likely to come into contact with people with mental illness than community members. As a result, the extent and predictors of mental health stigma is an issue of concern among police officers; however, little prior research on stigma has focused on police officers. The present study examined the predictors of mental health stigma among police officers, including the experience of trauma and PTSD symptoms. Active duty police officers (N = 296) were recruited through an online survey and completed measures of trauma exposure, PTSD symptoms, and a number of dimensions of stigma (negative stereotypes, attributions, intended behavior, and attitudes toward seeking help). Findings supported that police officers experience high rates of trauma exposure and higher rates of current PTSD than the general population. Endorsement of negative stereotypes about people with mental illness was higher among police officers than the general population. Contrary to what was expected, officers meeting criteria for current PTSD endorsed more stigma about mental illness, even when controlling for common demographic predictors of stigma, including gender and knowing someone with a mental illness. Findings have important implications for the training of police officers regarding mental illness.

Swanson, J. W., & Belden, C. M. (2018). The link between mental illness and being subjected to crime in Denmark vs the United States: how much do poverty and the safety net Matter? JAMA Psychiatry, 75(7), 669–670.
The media-driven notion that mentally ill people pose a danger to others appears to be encrusted like a barnacle on the concept of mental illness submerged in the public mind.1 Meanwhile, epidemiological studies estimate that the overwhelming majority of the 44.7 million US adults with a mental illness2 are not violent toward others,3 but that 1 in 4 psychiatric patients are subjected to crime in a given year.4 That changes the story. The discovery that people with psychiatric disorders are far more frequently the targets, rather than the perpetrators, of crime has become a key talking point for advocates who would debunk the dangerousness myth.5 Until recently, the data to support this rhetorical reversal have come from relatively small samples of patients with psychiatric conditions and have relied on participant recall of being subjected to crime.4,6 Now, a new study from Denmark published in this issue of JAMA Psychiatry7 confirms that the onset of mental illness significantly increases risk of experiencing crime, using longitudinal registry data on a national cohort of more than 2 million individuals with independent measures of specific psychiatric diagnoses matched to police records of reported crime.