Massachusetts Daily Collegian

APD officers to receive training for responding to mental health crises

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(Zoe Mervine/Daily Collegian)

(Zoe Mervine/Daily Collegian)

The Amherst Police Department has received a grant to train officers in how to better handle mental health crises as a part of both a statewide push to establish such training.

Six Massachusetts departments, including Amherst, are each the recipients of a two-year, $400,000 Department of Mental Health grant aimed at implementing Crises Intervention Team training and further developing Law Enforcement Jail Diversion Programs.

According to a DMH report, between 7 and 10 percent of “all police calls involve a person with a mental disorder.” The report also indicated that people with mental health issues are over-represented in our prison system and do not receive adequate treatment while they serve their time.

“Mentally ill people are sent to jail for lesser crimes and stay there for longer on average,” Assistant Commissioner of Forensic Mental Health Services Debra Pinals said. “We want to change this trend.”

As a part of the grant, a significant proportion of Amherst police officers will undergo 40 hours of CIT training. The training is aimed at enabling officers to better deal with mental health crises, including improving de-escalation tactics and enhancing communication skills.

The training not only provides skills to help alleviate problems when officers respond to a call, it also equips officers and dispatchers with a wider range of resources so that mentally ill people can be directed toward appropriate treatment.

Pinals said the training provides both officers and dispatchers with knowledge so that “if there is a behavior that could be rerouted to treatment rather than arrest,” the right decisions can be made on the fly.

Pinals is optimistic about the model, as it is one that has “been recognized nationally and internationally as a promising practice.”

The inception of the CIT followed a 1987 incident in Memphis, Tennessee, where police officers shot and killed a young man with a history of mental illness who was threatening people with a knife. The National Alliance on Mental Illness stepped up and, with the help of the police and the community, developed what has become known as the Memphis Model.

According to the CIT Center website, 2,619 local CIT programs have been set up in 46 states.

Pinals also said that efforts to continue training officers would not end with the grants.
Other trainings exist already, including an eight-hour mental health first aid one. The course teaches the signs of a mental illness or disorder, how to assess a situation and provide help, the impact of mental and substance use disorders and how to connect with local resources.

The DMH has worked with other state agencies, including the Department of Veterans Services, Department of Youth Services and the Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services to support law enforcement trainings.

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Anthony_Rentsch.[liveblog]

1 Comment

One Response to “APD officers to receive training for responding to mental health crises”

  1. Lexi on March 30th, 2015 1:38 am

    This is good news. A while back there was a mentally disturbed man who was beaten to death by three police offices. Some officers are actually pretty cool, but there are also some that are rude and quick to beat down an innocent person that can’t help but being symptomatic with their mental illness

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