Spokane police are stepping up their crisis intervention training, recommended by the use of force commission and mandatory for all police officers regardless of their rank, which helps prepare them to deal with mentally ill people they encounter on a daily basis.
This week-long class is intended to help officers recognize when people are having a mental health crisis. In one training scenario Wednesday, police role played through attempting to evict a tenant who's not been paying his rent wandering into other apartments.
In the scenario, the role player's pill bottles are empty, a sign he's been off his medication and a warning sign to police to go slow and try to de-escalate the situation.
"We don't want to rush the situation, we want to get four or five officers there ahead of time. We want to contact the medical department and have them respond with us," Sergeant Tony Giannetto with the Spokane Police Department said.
The training is designed to help police better recognize that if someone's not cooperating with them it may not be because they're a criminal, but rather having a mental health crisis. If arriving officers see those clinical warning signs then they need to quickly call for more officers, set up a larger perimeter and let time and distance allow work in their favor.
"If we stand back and let them act out and air out we get the officers there and when we go in to contact them we can effectively control them with one officer on each limb," Giannetto explained.
This class also covers the warning signs for excited delirium, people who are suffering from a life-threatening condition, and it's up to police to contain them and then get their patient to the hospital as quickly as possible.
On the other hand you're not going to see a lot of this kinder, gentler approach if the person having the mental health crisis is armed with a deadly weapon and other people are at risk.
However this class does give officers the tools to better diagnose who they are dealing with and come up with the right plan for helping them.