An exercise simulating how mentally ill people who hear voices might react when an officer is issuing orders is part of 30 hours of training intended to teach officers alternatives to force, reports the Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise. Every day, Riverside police respond to an average of 7.5 mental health crisis calls. “Traditional police responses, closing in on someone, being aggressive, is akin to throwing gasoline on the fire,” said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Hundreds of police departments around the country have added such training in an effort to lower liability, improve officer safety, and save officers time. The training represents the increasingly complex world of policing that requires skill and analysis. The training includes developing an understanding of what someone may be thinking when having a mental health crisis and explaining that this is a medical diagnosis. Officers are told to refer to such people as “consumers.” Poignant parts of the class include a session in which officers list what names they would call someone who is mentally ill: crazy, nuts — the list goes on. Then the same officers are asked to describe names used for cancer patients. The room goes silent. Some officers remain skeptical. Riverside Police Officer Association President Chris Lanzillo said officer safety will come first. He has not yet had the training and said he isn’t sure how it would alter how officers operate. A”If he’s not listening or maybe we see something in his hand or looks combative, we’re going to do what we have to do,” Lanzillo said.