Western MT law enforcement trains for mental health emergencies

Posted at 3:19 PM, Apr 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-13 17:19:27-04

MISSOULA – Representatives from agencies across Western Montana came together Friday to help organize re-enactments involving interactions between law enforcement officers and people with mental health disorders. 

‘We are at our third annual CIT Academy, which is Crisis Intervention Team, so really this is a collaborative effort between local mental health agencies and then law enforcement," said CIT organizer Amy Chesebro. "So we have Western Montana Mental Health Center, we have the Missoula Sheriffs Department and the Missoula Police Department, who are the CIT coordinators."

All of the agencies come together to help train officers on how to respond to calls that involve someone going through a mental health crisis.

"One of the things that we as officers are seeing is [that] we have an increase [in calls] to those who have mental health diagnosis or those who have not yet been diagnosed with a mental illness," said Missoula Police Detective and CIT organizer Ben Slater. 

"As our climate changes and resources for those people become less and less, then our contact with those individuals increases for us as officers. This is a great tool to have in our pockets so we are better able to address that increasing contact with those individuals," he added.

That tool is developed through the scenarios created by CIT that involve real officers and role-players who are portraying someone with a mental health disorder.

Some of the scenarios seem a little over the top, but all are based on real-life events. Actors are given scripts that have different outcomes based on officers responses during the scenarios.

"There’s a couple ways to do it. You try to put yourself in the shoes of that person, you also try to put yourself in the place where you challenge the officers to make good decisions and make considerate decisions and be respectful of all parties involved, and so you try to think about, ‘How can I challenge them to do that?" said Charlie Wellenstein, one of the role players for the training.

It’s challenging work for the officers who participate, but their efforts help make Missoula a safer place for everyone in the community, especially those suffering from mental illness.

"If officers can go through this training and really internalize these skills to be able to back off and just give that person the time and space to de-escalate and to be able to come out of that situation on the other end with them connected to services everyone safe you know even from the officers stand point of not having that regret at the end of the day of how they handled the situation for everyone to kind of end up safe and secure and connected where they need to be," said academy role player Hannah Halden.