Sunday, December 02, 2007

Training equips officers to help mentally ill

I was planning on writing a diary regarding some things John F. Kennedy said a long time ago but that can wait another day.

In todays Troy Record there is an article pertinent to the recent events at Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign office in New Hampshire.

TROY - At 2 a.m. Troy Police Sgt. Matt Montanino gets a call about a person on the Green Island Bridge who is threatening to jump. It's the kind of call that many police officers dread. But Montanino is different. This is just the kind of call he's been trained to handle. Montanino is a volunteer member of the Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team (EDPRT).


The Troy Police Department is one of only two municipal law enforcement agencies in the state participating in the EDPRT initiative.

This insightful training first became news back in January 2006...

Troy cops train to deal with mentally ill
By: Ryan T. Fitzpatrick, The Record

TROY - Charged emotions and mental illness pervade many crimes and crises that police officers deal with on a daily basis.

That is why the Troy Police Department has taken its training efforts to the next level with its Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team (EDPRT).

A dozen officers graduated from the department's first 40-hour course on mental illness and crisis intervention Friday afternoon at RPI.
Revelations about the reality of mental illness in recent years has led to a shift in how to treat mentally ill suspects and emotionally charged situations.

"We've learned that mental illness is a disability. It is not a choice," said city Police Chief Nicholas Kaiser, addressing an audience of officer-graduates and local government officials.

Statistics show clearly how our prisons are full of people with mental illnesses and/or drug addictions. Rather than treating these problems proactively for what they are we wait until they reach crisis point and then punish them as crimes.

The real crime is our socities lack of response to actively helping our most needy and vulnerable friends, neighbors, and family members.

Training police in how to handle these situations is an excellent start.

Det. Sgt. John Cooney, the department's spokesman and also a graduate of the course, said he is sold on the idea of training officers to handle the mentally ill.

"We're called in to wear all these hats," said Cooney, referring to how officers sometimes have to think like a lawyer, doctor or counselor, depending upon the immediate problem at hand.

Just as a law course or a first-aid course could equip officers with the tools to address immediate legal or medical situations, EDPRT training aims to give officers the ability to effectively handle the role as ad-hoc counselor to a mentally ill person.

That is exactly why officer Mark Millington, a department veteran of 20 years, decided to attend the optional class.

"I was intrigued with it," said Millington. "I wanted some more tools, some more knowledge to deal with people with mental illness, or the emotionally disturbed."


"When they were identifying mental disorders and their symptoms, you rethink instances in your career where you've seen that," he said.

So often police get knocked for what they do wrong. It is important to applaud and highlight the positive roles they fill in society.

Sgt. Eric Weaver, of the Monroe County Sheriff's Department, near Rochester, helped run a similar program that served as a model for Troy's program, which he directed and helped teach.

"It's been my honor to do this. We learned a lot this week about what mental illness is, what mental illness is not," said Weaver. Part of the program established connections between the police and the city's mental-health institutions, such as Samaritan Hospital. "The EDPRT is so much more than responding to calls. It's about working together as a community. The best thing we can do is to work together as a community for the people."

That is part of what was being highlighted in todays follow-up article.

It was recognized recently by Joseph's House & Shelter for bringing compassion to a job that is often carried out in the most stressful of circumstances.

"Sixty-one percent of people who are homeless also have a mental illness. That Joseph's House is honoring our police force says a lot. That's a powerful statement," said Rensselaer County Mental Health Commissioner Katherine Macial.

Several years ago, Macial heard about a program being pioneered by police in Rochester which trained officers how to respond to such calls as potential suicides. They launched a training program to teach officers how to be more effective dealing with people suffering from mental or emotional distress.

The program was the brainchild of then-Sgt. Eric Weaver, who had first-hand knowledge of how debilitating mental illness is. Weaver himself reportedly suffers from bi-polar disorder. In baring his soul about his disability, Weaver enabled other police officers to gain valuable insight into the plight of a person suffering from mental or emotional distress. According to Macial, mental illness is a lot more common than many people realize.

"The EDPRT is a team that the community needs to know about," she said. "And we're starting to expand it. It's such a useful tool to officers when they have to deal with people under great emotional distress."

I applaud and support this effort completely and wonder if folks here on DailyKos might consider talking with their local law enforcement agencies to encourage them to institute similar programs if they have not already.

The initiative has brought more understanding to behavior that was formerly treated as a criminal matter, said Scarlet Clement-Buffoline, assistant vice president of Behavioral Health at Samaritan Hospital, an affiliate of Northeast Health.

Mentally ill people don't get better in solitary confinement in prisons.

"The program has been so successful that we haven't had any injuries to our officers or community members as the result of a call since the program began," he said.

In the past, there was no training in place to help officers determine that the cause of unruly behavior such as breaking a window or resisting arrest could be the result of a person in mental or emotional distress. With the EDPRT training Troy Police can now quickly make that assessment, Kaiser said.

Doesn't it make sense to help officers understand which folks they deal with are in need of help and which ones are actually criminal?

The officers clearly appreciate the added knowledge and tools and as a family member of a mentally ill person I certainly appreciate them knowing how best to come to a peaceful and safe resolution of an out of control situation.

I applaud the Troy, NY and Rochester, NY Police Departments, Chief Kaiser, and Sgt. Weaver for their vision, dedication, and professionalism.

It would probably be a good idea for society as a whole to insist that mental health coverage is available for all people regardless of ability to pay for it too. Might reduce the number of situations the police end up having to deal with in this first place... ya think?

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