Law enforcement trains to improve mental health crisis response - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Law enforcement trains to improve mental health crisis response

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As a mental health crisis continues to grip the state, local law enforcement agencies are arming themselves to respond to mental crisis situations.

That new armor doesn't come as a form of a weapon, but instead a new set of skills.

This week, over 60 police officers, firefighters, and emergency responders from different parts of the state are attending a Crisis Intervention Training session. The 40-hour session began in the 1980s in Memphis but it's been new to Johnson County in the last year. In the year since it started in the county, they've held four different training sessions. 

Through speaking sessions with area doctors, people who have lived with mental health issues, and countless role play scenarios; the responders are learning how to recognize if someone is having a mental crisis, to identify what they are suffering from, and how to respond. Jessica Peckover, Johnson County's Jail Alternatives Administrator, said they're also learning active listening and verbal de-escalation skills.

"We know one-third of people with mental health and substance use disorders will have contact with law enforcement before they come into the treatment system. We know the officers are coming into contact with this. We want to give them more tools in their tool belt," Peckover said.

Peckover said during the training they're also trying to install patience skills with the officers in dealing with these situations.

"If there is somebody who is in crisis, we really want you to slow down. Build rapport. You'll get the information you need if you connect with them as humans," she said.

She said these skills can create an all-around more safe environment for the officers and the individual in need and that the chances of having to use force go down. Peckover cited that the since the Coralville prison, Iowa Medical and Classification Center, went through a similar training session they saw a 50% decrease in the use of force in its psychiatric ward.

Ultimately, the training is meant to find another means to help the person rather than it ending in an arrest.

"The whole program is designed for us to help find alternatives to jailing and to recognize that people they may have mental illness and jail is not the best way to help them," Scott Gaarde, with the Iowa Police Department, said.

Gaarde said all officers from the department will have undergone the training session.

"If officers are aware of signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorders and they're aware of community resources, they can maybe divert those people to treatment rather than sending them through the criminal justice system," Peckover said.

The CIT session ends on Monday, when all officers will be tested through a role-play scenario. 

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