Objective: The aim of the present study was to explore the mental health and offending histories for all cases that resulted in fatal use of force by Victoria Police between November 1982 and February 2007.
Methods: Forty-eight fatalities were extracted from the Use of Force (UoF) Register, and then linked with the mental health and police contacts databases. These data were supplemented, where necessary, with relevant information from Coronial Reports and an Office of Police Integrity Report.
Results: All but six cases had involved recorded histories with mental health and criminal justice systems before the fatal incident occurred. Rates of all Axis I disorders were significantly overrepresented, with estimated rates of psychosis and schizophrenia 11.3- and 17.3-fold higher than estimated rates in the general population (95% confidence intervals = 6.3–20.2 and 9.2–32.4, respectively). Although the number of fatalities has halved since inception of Project Beacon (32 before vs 16 after 1995), there has been no reduction in representation of mental illness among those fatally shot.
Conclusions: The significant over-representation of Axis I disorders, including severe mental disorders of psychosis and schizophrenia, is of considerable concern for both the police and the mental health providers. Functional interagency partnerships and police training on how to interact with people in distress are recommended to address the overrepresentation of mentally ill persons in these encounters.