Many local police departments are holding special sessions to train officers about mental illness and how to help the people they interact with, NPR reports. At the St. Louis police academy, a “tactical communications” lecture is part of a weeklong Crisis Intervention Training. “You’ll see bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, various versions of that,” says Lt. Perri Johnson. “What we see a lot of is people who haven’t been diagnosed, and they may be taking drugs, they may be drinking to mask those issues.”
Johnson tells students that most of all, they need to use compassion. “Lower your voice so that that person becomes comfortable, but at the same time you’re keeping an eye on their movements, on their hands. Know where the doors are in case you need to get out quickly,” he says. In the 1980s, police in Memphis, Tn., shot and killed a man threatening suicide with a knife. Outcry about the incident led to developing the Crisis Intervention Team model, which now is used by almost 3,000 local and regional departments. Local providers for mental health services, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness, work closely with departments to develop the curriculum.