The police are part of the problem – Guns and Mental Health Part 2

This post is part of a series.  Part 1 is here.

In my previous post, I talked about the privacy concerns raised by the proposal to modify HIPAA to allow therapists to either submit mental health information to the background check database or provide it directly to law enforcement.

My next big concern is with providing this information to law enforcement, and what the police will do with this information. The police already have a tendency to shoot people who they view as behaving erratically or who they see as a threat. Telling them in advance that someone they’re going to interact with has a mental illness can prejudice them toward a belief, maybe unfounded, that the person is dangerous. And, like everything else, those prejudices get amplified when dealing with any minorities, particularly black people. So, my big question is, what information from someone’s private mental health records do you want the police to have? When police have this information, how do you ensure that they’ll behave reasonably and proportionally? How do you ensure that putting Bob’s depression or bipolar diagnosis in the hands of law enforcement doesn’t get him shot?

As a related question, if you’re changing HIPAA, are police officers now bound by HIPAA (with the related training that entails)? Or, once they know that John Q. Smith of 471 Maple Drive in Anytown, NY is diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, do they get to disseminate this information? And, again, what if it’s wrong? If it was actually John H. Smith who had those diagnoses, what recourse does John Q. Smith have about the false information that’s out there? Is he entitled to know the police are keeping those records? What safeguards are they using?

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