Law enforcement officers need the training to deal with the increasing number of mental health-related calls for service. A survey released in early 2019 found that 70% of all U.S. law enforcement officers saw increases (often substantial) in their number of daily encounters with emotionally disturbed individuals.
Historically, about 10% of all police calls nationwide involve individuals affected by mental illness. But in recent years that’s been climbing. Today, 20% of our jail population suffers from mental illness. In a recent radio interview, Milton Mack (State Court Administrator for Michigan and former chief judge of Wayne County Probate Court) explained:
“The key part of the problem is that we [as a society] don’t intervene in a timely matter; about half the people that have serious mental illness … are not getting treatment. … We should have a [healthcare] system that intervenes and helps people before they get involved in law enforcement.”
But we don’t.
As a result, law enforcement is increasingly asked to perform as “‘incidental’ mental health interventionists.”
Milton Mack was joined in that radio interview by Muskegon County (MI) Sheriff Michael Poulin. Poulin has likewise seen a steady increase in the “daily slow drip” of mental health issues in his community. He noted that “the important key … is that appropriate, educated interaction from our public safety community as they’re dealing with individuals. Being able to identify what’s going on, having the proper tools and the proper resources to handle somebody” with mental health or emotional issues can make interaction much less volatile and less likely to result in the use of force.
Simulation-based Mental Health Training Solutions
Robert McCue, General Manager at MILO Range Training Systems, has seen this in many agencies throughout the country: law enforcement increasingly obliged to handle tricky mental health situations, often in the absence of a comprehensive mental health response training program.
MILO Range has provided highly sophisticated simulators to the State of California to develop the immersive simulation component of their highly successful crisis intervention and mental health training program. This is a 16-hour, POST-certified, legislatively mandated training, focused on de-escalation and crisis management.
“Many of these scenarios are completely communicative simulations,” McCue notes. “98% of your calls are and should be ‘just talking.’ People often dismiss that as being easy. But if you aren’t prepared for the sorts of emotional things that get thrown at you in these simulations, the situation can escalate quickly. This simulation training is designed and filmed with law enforcement and mental health professionals. It’s crafted to trigger emotional responses in your trainees, so they can prepare themselves for things they otherwise could not anticipate.”
This approach gets results. As one trainer in California noted, “These scenarios allow for the full spectrum of force options, but more importantly, the scenarios allow for complex conversational branching with the goal of voluntary cooperation and compliance. MILO Range provides repeatable, standardized training scenarios that allow the student to be corrected and learn in a high stake/low-risk environment.”