When Washington trains police, it teaches them not to see their role only as “warriors,” but as “guardians.” That’s just one change, along with de-escalation training, to help police more safely interact with people exhibiting signs of mental illness. “They’re going into communities, not war zones,” says the director.
“This is a tough time to be a cop,” a police officer in Medina, a posh enclave near Seattle. “We deal with the mentally ill all the time, and there’s also a lot of public criticism of us. So any tool that helps us do our job better and prevents these situations from escalating, that’s something you like to have.”
Police shot and killed almost 1,000 people last year, and The Washington Post found that a quarter of the victims had been diagnosed with mental illness. Research suggests that as many as half of those killed by officers every year struggle with mental health problems, and for people with untreated conditions, the risk of death when stopped by law enforcement runs 16 times above that of other citizens.
“The idea is not to back off a situation, per se, but to slow down the action when it’s appropriate to do so,” says Sue Rahr, the former sheriff of King County, which includes Seattle. “Listening to someone for three minutes can seem like an eternity. We want to reinforce the idea that three minutes is not a lot of time, and you can use that time to bring a situation to a peaceful resolution.”
“If a person isn’t a threat to himself or others, if he’s in his house alone, then take the time to build rapport. Think about what other resources or assets you can bring in. Time is your friend.”
“Policing isn’t the same as it was 20, 30 years ago,” he says. “It used to be that you just took a person to jail. Now there’s very much a social work component to it. You’re trying to figure out how to get this person help and be a productive member of society.”
From Christian Science Monitor.