OREM — Law enforcement officers in Utah County attended the Crisis Intervention Team Academy this week.
Roughly 25 to 30 officers learned about mental illness, including clinical disorders, psychotropic medications and personality disorders, as well as developmental disabilities.
“One of the goals is officers are recognizing right from the get-go that they might be dealing with mental illness,” Orem Police Lt. Guy Gustman said.
Officers also were able to interact with people suffering from mental illness during the training.
“They have lunch with them and are able to ask them questions, find out what is happening for them,” said Bryant Jenks, a Wasatch Mental Health therapist.
Jenks said officers who have gone through the course have been able to avoid deadly force situations.
“Instead of going in and taking care of it too fast, they've stepped back, used the (Crisis Intervention Team) principles to talk and de-escalate things, as long as officer safety isn’t an issue,” he said.
Gustman said officers get some basic information on mental illness at the police academy, but the course gives them insight on how to deal with different types of illness and how to treat the patients.
He said recognizing mental illness right away can make a big difference on how a situation will end. Such training helps officers stay away from using a Taser or gun when they realize a mental illness is at play, Gustman said.
Once officers are able to diffuse an intense situation, they can help that person get the assistance they need, he said.
The class is taught in the spring and in the fall, and 50 to 60 officers complete the course every year. It’s a statewide program that began in 2005.
This year, for the first time, an entire city will have all of its officers trained. Salem Police Chief Brad James said he felt it was necessary to have all of his officers trained because mental illness is something every officer will deal with during their career.
Contributing: Randall Jeppesen