A year before a New York police sergeant shot and killed a bat-wielding woman with schizophrenia, the city’s police department began giving officers specialized training on how to handle the mentally ill. The sergeant, who was charged this week with murder, hadn’t received it. The October shooting of Deborah Danner highlighted the argument for the training, which has reached 5,800 of the department’s 35,000 officers. The NYPD says it’s trying to extend it as widely and quickly as possible, the Associated Press reports. Mental health advocates and a city police watchdog group praised the program, but they said it needs to be better put into practice. “The training of police officers is critically important,” says Steven Coe of Community Access, a mental health advocacy and services organization. But “there’s things the city needs to be doing, overall, beyond the training.”
While the NYPD already had a small, highly trained unit for mental health cases, the crisis intervention training was meant to help more officers de-escalate confrontations. It’s now being expanded to additional shifts. Since Danner’s death, the department has been focusing on training higher-ranking officers. The NYPD responded to 157,000 calls of people in crisis last year. Most end without harm. Crisis intervention training explores how to recognize signs of mental illness and empathize with someone in the throes of a crisis. During the four-day program, officers hear from patients, mental health professionals and police officials. Mental health advocates — and a January report from the city’s inspector general for police — say the training is well-done, but not so well deployed.