Police Get Specialized Training for Dealing with Mentally Ill Suspects
In light of increasing incidences of run-ins with mentally ill or unstable suspects, police departments across the country are setting up training for their officers to provide them with strategies for dealing with mentally ill persons.
In St. Louis, where law enforcement officers have been under national scrutiny after the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent rioting, officers regularly go through a weeklong “Crisis Intervention Training,” known as a CIT. The CIT concept arose in the late 1980s, in response to a public outcry after Memphis, Tennessee officers shot a man who was threatening suicide. Officials estimate that up to 3,000 police departments nationwide now have some form of crisis intervention training.
Experts attribute the increase in interactions with mentally ill persons to the loss of funding for many state mental health programs and the subsequent closure of a large number of state mental hospitals, putting many persons previously institutionalized on the streets. When those persons begin to experience problems, concerned citizens typically call law enforcement officers and police are forced to handle issues for which they have little training. As a consequence, they far too often respond with force, as they have been trained to do.
Participants in the training learn to use calming skills to defuse volatile situations, and are taught to avoid acts which might escalate tensions. But police acknowledge that behaviors are unpredictable and officers need to be concerned for their own safety and the safety of others. Those are the times when officers may conclude that the use of force is the best option. Studies show that, at least in St. Louis, force was used about four percent of the time, usually in the form of a Taser or some type of constraint.
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