Vail police getting Crisis Intervention Team training to de-escalate situations with mentally ill
October 25, 2016
VAIL — Local police deal with the mentally ill more often than you might realize and are learning to de-escalate situations that could end in violence or death.
It's called Crisis Intervention Team training. In this case, members of the Vail Police Department go through intense classroom instruction and then at least 10 real-life scenarios ranging from hostage situations to a potential bridge jumper to a 15-year old kid who's feuding with his parents.
Professional actors work the scenarios as cops learn to talk people down from potentially lethal situations. Central to the training is teaching police officers to think like the people they're dealing with, not necessarily like the law enforcement officers they are, said Daric Harvey, commander with the Vail Police Department.
"It increases your ability to communicate 10-fold," Harvey said.
Some people are delusional or are suffering hallucinations; others are upset for a variety of reasons that seem real at the time but might not be.
"If you're dealing with someone who does not process information the same way you do, or see and hear the same things you do — and you cannot administer medication — then you have to be a good communicator to get that person to calm down and realize that delusions and hallucinations they're experiencing are not real," Harvey said.
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acting out reality
Acting companies provide the players. In this case, Vail police set up the scenarios from cases they've handled, and worked with mental and emotional health clinicians from around the region to help set up the situations, based on things they've dealt with.
"Those clinicians put situations in terms that help a police officer understand that when they're dealing with someone who's hearing voices or seeing things, they don't understand what the real world environment is," Harvey said. "This trains them in techniques they can use to de-escalate from that crisis state."
In other words, the voices in someone's head or the illusions they're having may not be real, but they're real to them.
"Having the officer understand that is critical to de-escalating those situations," Harvey said.
One of the actors portrayed a homeless guy who was agitated and ready to jump off Bob the Bridge in Avon because four white vans had driven under it, and there should have been five. The government was out to get him, and the voices in his head were telling him to jump in front of a moving vehicle — preferably the next white van that rolled by — denying the government the satisfaction of getting its tentacles further into him.
Another actor portrayed a 15-year-old boy who had cut himself and barricaded himself in his room, upset because he believed his parents said he's a sissy. They want him on the football team instead of playing trumpet in the marching band. The kid is serious and has weapons. You know this because he used one to cut himself. He might cut himself again, or he might cut you.
A study by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center found that people with mental illness are 16 times more likely than others to be killed by police. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates 15 percent of men and 30 percent women annually booked at U.S. jails have mental health problems.
"What departments are going through right now is nothing short of a cultural revolution," Peter Scharf, a criminologist at the LSU School of Public Health and Justice, told USA Today. "Jails have become the alms house of this generation, and police have become the first responders to the mentally ill."
The Vail Police Department is among 3,000 of the nation's 18,000 police departments that have officers go through Crisis Intervention Team training, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Stress is the point
"The object of the training is to stress the officer to the point that they want to go in there, but don't," Harvey said. "They use their words more than some other physical aspect. It's done by design to help them de-escalate from the verbal sense."
The actors will call you if you're using words like "we" or other filler. "We?!? Who's we?!?" the actors will bark at their trainees.
If the officer laughs or grins, it means they're not taking this seriously. The situation escalates, and escalation is bad.
Those running the training will also call time-out and stop everything, helping officers learn to steer conversations away from danger and toward de-escalation.
"In addition to making people a great communicator, (Crisis Intervention Team training) is also about building relationships with the mental health community so if the officer runs into something they cannot handle, they have a resource to call," Harvey said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.