More TPD officers to receive training in mental health first aid

Published: May. 18, 2017 at 7:20 PM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 11:16 AM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - More Tucson Police Department officers will learn how to deal with suspects who may be dealing with a mental health crisis.

Officials say the training will help reduce the amount of situations from turning violent and potentially hurting themselves, officers, or bystanders.

Cenpatico announced on Thursday, May 18, it donated 850 mental health first aid training books to TPD.

So far, only 300 officers have taken the mandatory 8-hour training course with Cenpatico's curriculum since it started in February.

TPD Chief Chris Magnus said the books will help train about 200 more field officers by fall 2017. Something that's needed since he estimates one in every eight calls for service include someone dealing with a mental health crisis.

Magnus said the training gives officers on the front line a chance to keep those who need mental help health out of the criminal justice system. His goal is to get all 1,200 people in the department including detectives, dispatchers, and support staff trained by this time next year.

Dustin Dial, the lead officer with the Mental Health Investigation Support Team said his team of nine people can only do so much. He said expanding the basic training to all officers will help with the call load.

Dial compared the program to an EMT or paramedic responding to a person with a broken leg.

"Mental health first aid is helping officers save lives," he said.

But how?

Polly Knape with Cenpatico said the training involves teaching officers how to recognize someone with mental health issues.

She said one of the techniques to de-escalate the confrontation includes taking a deep breath and slowing down the situation.

"Keeping a calm voice. Not getting in that person's personal space and giving them a moment to respond to commands. If someone is having auditory hallucinations, maybe they're hearing things, it becomes very difficult for them to hear that law enforcement's commands."

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