IMPD officers begin week-long training on mental illness

IMPD officers received training on dealing with mental illness Monday, August 31, 2015. (WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is learning how to handle the needs of someone with mental illness during times of crisis.

Mental illness has been connected to high profile crimes in recent years.

IMPD Officers are hoping to get a better understanding of mental illness, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

Monday was the start of five days of training for IMPD officers at the police academy.

“It’s just an everyday reality for patrol officers and mental health, medics, firefighters, and everyone deals a lot of mental illness,” said IMPD patrol officer Tim Westerhof. “People [are] dealing with mental illness on the street, in homes, at work.”

Around 40 officers will be spending their time in a classroom as part of training with the Crisis Intervention Team.

The training is highlighting all aspects of mental illness, including mental health issues, the legal process and how to help and engage others when they’re out on a call.

“As a patrol officer you deal with calls from families pleading — sometimes begging — for help with mental illness,” said Westerhof.

For some patrol officers, the learning experience has been a powerful one.

“Obviously, [it is a] very difficult experience for a family member to deal with someone with mental illness in their family, but there’s still a lot of love there as well,” said Westerhof.

After watching documentaries and hearing from guest speakers on the first day, Westerhof said the key is being patient and listening.

“One of the things that I’ve really taken away from this is to really listen to the family members and not just the person who can pull it together for a few minutes and talk to us and sound pretty coherent and lucid, but really listen to what the family is telling us is happening when we’re not there,” said Westerhof.

Leading the training is Donna Yancey, a volunteer with the local chapter of National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“The training that our law enforcement officers receive regarding mental illness is only about six hours, which really doesn’t begin to really give you a whole lot. And so this gives them a better understanding of how to interact, which is a little bit different than what they’ve been taught in their training and such,” said Yancey.

But after this program, officers with IMPD will have 40 hours under their belt. Yancey hopes the valuable time will help officers in the long run.

“They learned to distinguish if this person might have a mental illness and that might be why they’re behaving the way they are, and then they can act in a different way to keep the situation from escalating,” said Yancey.

The CIT program has trained more than 200 IMPD officers. Officers will also receive a pin at the end of training.

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