Journal of Law and Policy


Police use of force has been subject to greater scrutiny in recent years in the wake of several high-profile killings of African Americans. Less attention, however, has been paid to the increasingly routine violent encounters between police and individuals with mental illness or intellectual and development disabilities (“I/DD”). This is particularly problematic, as police have become the de-facto first responders to these individuals and far too often police responses to these individuals result in tragedy.

This Note argues that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires law enforcement to provide reasonable accommodations during their interactions with and seizures of individuals with mental illness or I/DD. Arrest should not be the default option. Nor should police resort to using force when less confrontational tactics exist. When reviewing the use of force during these encounters, courts should grant less automatic deference to police split-second decision making and instead consider the totality of the circumstances, including whether and to what extent police provided reasonable accommodations, and whether such accommodations would have mitigated the risk necessitating the use of force.

While there are an increasing number of programs throughout the country dedicated to improving police responses to individuals with mental illness and I/DD, more fervent efforts must be undertaken to help officers peacefully resolve these situations and avoid unnecessary arrests and violent confrontations. More tailored police training, such as crisis intervention training, is crucial in this regard. Finally, this Note examines the increased criminalization of individuals with mental illness and I/DD and identifies comprehensive reasonable accommodations that should be implemented, such as judicial reform and progressive identification tools, to better protect these individuals against undue discrimination in the criminal justice system.