East Valley officers training for mental health emergencies

TEMPE, AZ - East Valley police departments are taking action by educating their officers on a different approach.

Our law enforcement personnel are constantly forced to make quick decisions. But, with a rise of officer-involved shootings in our state this year - including around three dozen in the Valley in just the first five months of 2018 --  some believe Crisis Intervention Training that focuses on mental health is more important than ever. 

The training is not new, but shootings are something they are discussing throughout the course. While officials say some situations are simply unavoidable for the officer's safety, they also believe this kind of training could help decrease some of those rising shooting statistics. 

Only ABC15 was invited into the police training facility in Tempe to watch both classroom and actual crisis scenario training with officers, firefighters and behavioral health personnel.

The 40-hour, one-week course is conducted every few months with about 25 to 30 people. 

The goal is to better prepare officers on how to approach an individual struggling with mental health. 

"It's all voluntary," explained Officer Kevin Watts with the Scottsdale Police Department. "These officers are coming to this training because they want that experience because they know it's going to help them to do their job better."

They start in the classroom and then they head out to tackle different real-life scenarios. 

Officers are unaware of what situation they are walking into with actors simulating a specific mental illness. All of it while advisers are taking notes on what tactics the officers decide to take. 

"Years ago, we wouldn't get a lot of calls like this...the mental health type of crisis calls," explained Lt. Larry Marmie with the Scottsdale Police Department. 

ABC15 followed along for a handful of those scenarios. One of them involved a veteran found sleeping in the street. He struggles with PTSD. Another scenario was with a man struggling with schizophrenia. 

"There was some where an officer in years past might have used a certain level of force," Lt. Marmie said. "Now, they realize, 'Maybe this person is going through a mental health crisis and let me try this...'" 

Lt. Marmie said that this type of training is also being talked about in the community. He explained that now, some people who call 911 for a loved one will specifically ask for a CIT officer to come to the call.

Scottsdale Police said 45 percent of their officers are CIT trained. 

Due to staffing and funding issues, they cannot provide this course to as many officers as often as they would like. But, the departments across the state hope to expand the program in the coming years to train as many officers as possible. 

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