Sunday, February 24, 2013
State Legislators: Support State Crisis Training Requirements for Washington Police Officers
Letter to State Legislators in support of SB 5532/HB 1559:
Crisis Training Requirement for Washington Police Officers
Mental illness is not unusual. It is a fact of life for many Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around one in four adults experiences some sort of diagnosable mental disorder each year. Approximately one in seventeen lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in our country (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/
health/publications/the- numbers-count-mental- disorders-in-america/index. shtml).
Police encounter the mentally ill, and people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, on a regular basis. These encounters, when handled well, show the best in police practices: compassion, strategic sense, the capacity to balance public safety with individual well being. When handled poorly, the interactions are tragic: a mentally impaired woodcarver shot dead in Seattle, a mentally disabled man beaten to death in Spokane, a fellow Islander, Doug Ostling, killed in his apartment during what should have been a routine welfare check. It is estimated that 375 to 500 people are killed, each year, by police, and around half suffer from mental health problems.
Crisis intervention training for police officers does not guarantee that all police encounters with the mentally impaired will end well. But it does give the police more tools to use in these situations. Studies show that CIT training gives officers improved rapport-building skills and de-escalation abilities, and enhances communication between officers and family members. CIT trained officers seem more adept, than their non trained peers, at identifying signs of illness, and are more proactive in referring people for treatment. Interestingly, studies show that officers with training find people in the mental health system more helpful than their non-trained peers, suggesting that officers with specialized training are bette at navigating the medical system. (A 2008 article summarizing these findings is here: http://jaapl.org/content/36/1/
You have the ability, as overseers of the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), to influence the kind of training that police officers receive. SB 5532/HB 1559 requires that every new full time law enforcement officer in Washington State receives at least eight hours of CIT training and two hours of annual in service retrianing. It also sets aside funds to train current officers in CIT. While our hope is for a higher requirement, we welcome this effort to enact a basic standard. Islanders for Collaborative Policing joins the CJTC and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in urging the passage of this bill, and thanks you, in advance, for giving it your prompt attention.
The Reverend Dennis Tierney
Board Members, Islanders for Collaborative Policing