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Police Training: Response to Mental Health Related Calls

Police officers are responding to more mental health related calls than ever before. But, officers in most small departments don't have any more than eight hours of specific mental health training.
Police officers are responding to more mental health related calls than ever before. But, officers in most small departments don't have any more than eight hours of specific mental health training.

The officer involved shooting in Burlington, that left one man dead this week has us looking deeper. Police officers are asked to do more than ever these days, protect and often times, counsel.

In recent memory, a woman lit herself on fire, two men were shot by police and a tractor crushed cop cars.

Police say a mental health issue sparked each of these incidents.

"Somebody was on the ledge of the interstate overpass, getting ready to jump," Williston Police Chief Todd Shepard said. Chief Shepard says officers are being asked to respond to mental health crises now, more than ever. And because every case is different, the response is different.

"We’re trained to de-escalate situations, try to get information the best that we can, try to get responses, try to be calming, try to be as patient as we possibly can," Chief Shepard said.

But again, the only training specific to mental health related calls is one eight hour class during the Police Academy - anything beyond that depends on the budget and resources of each agency.

So while the majority of local police officers around the state get the bare minimum training required,

Burlington PD for example, teams up with the HowardCenter as often as once a month.

"You can't train enough because when whatever incident occurs happens, you need to be reacting out of muscle memory," Bob Bick said, who is the Director of the HowardCenter.

The thing is you cannot tell that someone's struggling just by looking at them, and often times, seeking help is voluntary - unless a person is harming themselves, or someone else, officers’ hands are tied.

"I think that that challenges every officer to their max," the Chief added.

The eight hour training on mental health related calls actually just started in 2009. Prior to that, the training was just two hours.

Experts say one reason for a spike in mental health calls could be due to the closing of the mental health hospital in Waterbury, after Tropical Storm Irene.

 

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