Program Helps Officers Responding To Crisis Involving Mental Illness

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Police officers have no idea about the mental state of the people they encounter out on the street. 

“Maybe they are having a really bad day, and handling that bad day just needs a little bit of help,” said Christy Daron, Franklin County Mental Health Board.

Mental health experts say training peace officers how to ask questions, in a way that keeps everyone calm and safe, can make all the difference. 

Two officers recently took part in a role-playing exercise with an actor who was pretending to be mentally unstable. 

Officers taking part in crisis intervention training are from several Central Ohio police departments. It's designed to give them tools to diffuse potentially violent situations.

In one scenario, officers are dealing with a mentally ill man who's been off his meds and drinking all day.

-    Those two hoodlums over there, I’m going to shoot them. 
-    Sam, you can't shoot someone just for walking in your yard. 
-    But look at that. This is private property. I own that.

They have to persuade him to go with them to a mental health facility to be evaluated.

The work can be tedious and exhausting with no two situations alike.  

“To do this right, it requires everyone to slow down, show more patience, and listen. So we're talking about active communication and listening at that point in time,” said Commander Chris Bowling, CPD.

Trainers say it's about getting the person in crisis to do something they may not want to do, by taking the pressure off and preserving their dignity.

The crisis intervention training is a strictly volunteer program for Columbus Police officers. It's offered three times year and almost always fills up quickly.