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Officers train to deal with mentally disturbed

Officers immobilize subject during a simulated hallucinatory incident.

Sun Advocate reporter

With an ever-expanding emphasis on public safety and limited recidivism, police officers from every agency in Carbon County participated in last week's Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) Academy at the Carbon Events Center.

The 40-hour training course, aimed specifically at dealing with individuals suffering from mental illness, was a success for the second time in less then 18 months. Eleven additional officers became certified in techniques that not only reduce recidivism but can also save lives.

"I was very encouraged by this group of officers," said Price City Police Capt. Bill Barnes, who is already a certified CIT officer. "Everyone participating 'bought in' from the very onset of the course."

According to Barnes, some officers are initially resistant to the training because it asks that they put themselves in the head space of those they would typically be arresting. However, by taking the time to figure out what is going on with those suffering from mental illness, a more lasting solution to any number of issues is usually achieved, he said.

The program, taught by Ron Bruno, a detective from the Salt Lake City Police and state CIT director, and by SLC Detective Liane Frederick, the state coordinator, increases an officer's awareness of mental health issues and instructs them in effective techniques utilized when encountering the mentally ill. The course also aims to broaden an officer's knowledge of resources available and understanding of legal issues. It also assists them by providing safer intervention techniques and appropriate solutions to many mental health situations.

The program begins when Frederick and Bruno go out and provide training by coming together with a mental health provider, Four Corners Community Behavioral Health in this instance, and a police force which was Price City here at the 144th Academy.

"This is a program that trains the police to deal with someone in a mental health crisis," explained Frederick. "The groups then try to work in conjunction moving toward a more permanent solution to problems which can drug out and deplete resources."

Frederick and Bruno conduct 19 academies throughout the state every year.

Representing Four Corners at the academy were mental health professionals Pat Wilson and Roslyn Warden who both vouched for the merits of the program.

"Because mental health groups like NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) have also endorsed the program, we have found that even the pin that these officers receive after training works as a de-escalation tool," said Wilson. "Those who know of the program, see the pin and calm down because they know they are with someone who understands what they are going through."

One technique used to increase empathy between police officers and the mentally ill is titled "voices." During this training session, the officers were forced to wear headphones that constantly pumped loud and often frightening voices into their head while they tried to deal with a task. After more than an hour of the voices, many of the officers were visibly shaken.

"It's very hard to focus on what is going on," said Price City Police Officer Kelly Maynes. "At one point they tried to have us conduct a call with dispatch while the voices were playing and I found it nearly impossible. It gave me a real understanding."

In addition to classroom and hands on training, the officers also spent an entire day at the state mental hospital, discussing just what some patients had gone through.

The training culminated with role playing exercises where the officers had the opportunity to go through everything from hostage situation with an armed ex-military assailant to the "nearly" routine service of a warrant to someone suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

The second academy has proven especially useful as it ensured that every Carbon County Department from East Carbon, Wellington and Price to Helper PD all have at least one officer on the force who is certified to better help those suffering through mental health problems.

"We are very grateful for everyone who made this possible from Karen Dolan at Four Corners and Chief Kevin Drolc of the Price Police," said Barnes. "This program provides the opportunity for real solutions to very difficult situations."

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