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Training for crisis: Police learn about mental illness

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Feb 15 2013 08:54:26 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 18 2013 01:30:27 PM CST

NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent spoke with police and mental health workers at a county-wide training on intervening in mental health crises.

BEND, Ore. -

Police officers from across the High Desert came together on Friday to end a week-long training session on how to better help the mentally ill.

Run-ins with and calls about mentally ill are becoming all too familiar for Bend and other police on the High Desert.

Mental health and police officials say mental illness is a growing issue in Central Oregon.

"Looking at the officers' call loads, looking at the amount of people coming to outpatient mental health, as well as the hospital, we've seen quite a rise in mental health calls," said Sage View Psychiatric Center at St. Charles  Manager Molly Wells.

Police don't have the money to hire more officers,  but they do have the ability to become smarter with their resources.

"Everybody is busy, nobody has a ton of resources, so the more training all of us have to interact together, the quicker and the more positive our outcomes are," said Bend Police Lt. Chris Carney.

Wells added, "It's that much more important that our officers have the training and skills they need to intervene in a safe manner."

This week, police from across Central Oregon attended crisis intervention trainings geared specifically at dealing with and helping those with mental illnesses.

It's the third year of the program in Deschutes County.

Wells and Carney agree it's critical in helping officers better understand mental illness.

"You're hearing the families that have children who suffer from mental illness," Carney said. "You're hearing people that actually suffer from mental illness talking to you. You really get a hands-on view from how mental illness affects people."

Friday's training involved several role-playing scenarios where officers were graded and evaluated on how well they handled encounters with the mentally ill.

In one scene, officers had to successfully get a razor away from a depressed young woman was hurting herself after her boyfriend broke up with her.

Another simulation featured a schizophrenic man who had wandered into a hotel lobby and was caused a scene.

Police had to get him to leave with them to go to the hospital.

The key? Establishing a relationship and a sense of trust.

Carney said officers often deal with the same mentally-ill people multiple times -- so it's important to to build a connection.

"We build that rapport, we build that trust. Now, at least when they see us, it's, 'Oh, the police are here to help me -- they're not here to hurt me,'" Carney said.

The workshops also provide a chance for mental health workers and officers to form stronger bonds -- and more respect for each others' roles in helping the mentally ill.

"We come together and, I think, get a better program together on how we resolve these, because we have a mutual understanding," Carney said.

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