The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 26, 2013

Trainers focus on mental health crisis response

Police, others use talk as calming tool

By Tim Krohn
tkrohn@mankatofreepress.com

---- — MANKATO — A group of local police and others wrapped up a 40-hour training Friday aimed at helping them identify people who are in a mental health crisis.

But Frank Webb, one of the trainers from Houston, Texas, said that's not the key to the training.

"The most important thing is training them how to talk it down rather than escalating things," Webb said.

That means a turnaround in the mindset of most police work where resistance, shouting or other aggressive behavior is met with increasing levels of force by police.

"It's 180 degrees different approach," Webb said.

He and trainer Rebecca Brown, both officers on the Houston Police Mental Health Team, told the 36 participants in the training that someone in a mental crisis needs to be allowed to vent and police need to back off while trying to de-escalate the situation.

The group covered all major mental illnesses, from schizophrenia to post traumatic stress syndrome and various responses depending on the situation.

Brown said the number of cases of mental health crises has increased as funding for mental health services has decreased. Houston has 25,000 mental health crisis calls every year.

"We want to work toward the decriminalization of mental illness," Brown said. Putting the mentally ill in jail, she said, is counterproductive as they don't receive the help they need and often get worse.

Mankato Public Safety Director Todd Miller said he wants all of his officers to be able to get the extensive training. In this round 19 officers, about half the patrol unit in Mankato, received the training.

"I'd love to get them back. But next time it might be more expensive," Miller said.

That's because this round of training was covered mostly by a grant. Mankato was responsible only for housing the trainers and some incidental expenses. Miller said if a future grant can't be secured, he will pay for the training out of the department's training budget.		

Also getting the training were Mayo Clinic Health System emergency department staff, police from North Mankato and St. Peter, and representatives from Mankato schools, MRCI, Blue Earth County social services and the Crisis Center.

Mankato also is looking at creating a volunteer community critical incident response team comprised of public safety staff and community mental health professionals who could respond to mental health crises.