Dealing with persons affected by mental illness is one of the most common calls our officers respond to. It is a daily occurrence, sometimes multiple times daily involving more than one individual. That is the reason our department has signed on to the International Association of Chiefs of Police “One Mind” campaign. The goal is to improve the interactions between the police and the mentally ill. Too often those interactions have the potential to go terribly wrong and violence ensues. To participate we have committed to training 20% of our staff in Crisis Intervention Training. It is a 40 hour grant funded program that trains police to better recognize the signs of a person in a crisis and offers strategies to officers that have a higher likelihood of a peaceful outcome. Officer Paul Wagenmaker was one of the first Auburn Hills Officers to take the class. The officers and command officers have found the training interesting and helpful. Officer Wagonmaker shared what he learned:
“The class gave me a better perspective on mental illness and the way it affects people. Many of the people we have contact with suffer from some type of mental illness.
Since the training my efforts are greater at trying to understand the person and how the mental illness affects them. The class taught me to be more personable and empathetic towards people suffering from mental illness and most importantly that they did not choose to have the illness. I learned techniques to make them feel more comfortable speaking to me, oppose to being afraid of the uniform. The class also provided us with information on area resources such as Common Ground, Easter Seals, and Oakland County Community Mental Health.
I have used the information that I learned in numerous contacts with people that suffer from mental illness. I believe that it is extremely important to learn and adapt policing & communication styles to people with mental illness. The use of ineffective communication with people who have mental illness often escalates to violence. There have been studies that use of force incidents decrease when using effective techniques on people with mental illness.
For example, I used some of the techniques on an individual who suffers from mental illness. He was suicidal and highly intoxicated – he barricaded himself inside his residence. He continued to threaten to kill himself and threatened Officers that he would shoot us. For nearly 90 minutes, behind cover outside the residence, I used the techniques that I had learned in this training to communicate with him while he was inside at a window.
I felt that there was no reason to make entry into the residence and using force because he was alone inside and I felt that it would escalate the situation where someone may get hurt. He would go back and forth speaking of violence to asking for help. Detective Thomas arrived on scene to assist. He and I were soon able to convince him to exit the residence so we can get him the help he was asking for. Once he exited, he was transported to the hospital for a committal. The situation was resolved and most importantly nobody got hurt.
Another example, is while I was training a new Officer recently, we assisted SIU and the Detective Bureau in executing a search warrant in our City. When we all arrived on scene, a male was outside and immediately ran from us to the backyard. It was unknown at the time if the person running was the suspect in a B&E case. We gave chase and I had my Taser out when I soon recognized signs and behaviors of mental illness from the runner. I choose not to use my Taser. We were able to secure him and then learned that he was the suspect’s autistic brother. The class that I took taught me to recognize the signs and behaviors of mental illness.
I use some of the techniques often as we deal with people suffering from mental illness daily.”
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year.