ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Police officers are typically the first one on the scene to any kind of emergency or crisis situation. That’s why some 40 officers took a five-day course to better understand how to serve and protect the mentally ill.
If they’re unaware of whom they’re dealing with, or if they’re unable to recognize that the person suffers from a mental illness, things could quickly escalate, creating a dangerous situation for everyone involved.
“Whether it is a mental illness call or not the way the officer communicates could de-Escalate the situation tremendously,” said Eric Weaver, Retired Sgt. Rochester PD.
Retired Sergeant, Eric Weaver, of the Rochester police department teaches the 40 hour course to agencies across the state. He says a vast majority of the calls that officers respond to have some type of mental health component to it.
“They’re trained how to use their weapons, taser, baton, but quite often they’re never trained on how to talk,” said Weaver.
This specialized training is designed to teach officers more about the specific behaviors that come with mental illness, in order to effectively communicate and safely intervene.
“What is mental illness? What does it look like? What are some indicators?” Weaver said.
Weaver also tells me there are a lot of mentally ill people in jails that don’t belong there.
“There’s a lot of individuals who are arrested for crimes that really have a lot more to do with their mental health, so what we try to do is train officers to understand that and to recognize that mental illnesses are a medical condition,” said Weaver.
All of the officers that ditched their patrol cars this week and sat in a classroom, volunteered, with plans to take back everything they’ve learned both to the station and to the streets.
Training was made possible through the Albany County Department of Mental Health and a Justice Services and Mental Health collaboration grant and the 10 agencies represented today were Albany County Sheriff’s Dept. and Albany County Corrections, Albany PD, Colonie PD, Guilderland PD, Watervliet PD, the VA police, Altamont PD, Cohoes PD and Bethlehem PD.