Police up training as interaction with mentally ill rises - CBS46 News

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Police up training as interaction with mentally ill rises

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LAGRANGE, GA (CBS46) -

It was a desperate 911 call. A woman telling the operator her 36-year-old sister was bipolar, off medication and waving a knife.

She tells 911 her sister needs help for mental illness but its too late. The GBI says the knife wielding woman was shot and killed by two arriving police officers.

"When there’s a weapon involved then de-escalation may not be possible," says Faye Taylor with the National Alliance on Mental Health.

She's trained police in how to recognize those with a disorder of the brain, and how to de-escalate a situation when possible.

"It's not something you can do in a minute or two," adds Taylor.

She says mental health cuts a decade or so ago appear to have contributed to a rise in law enforcement encounters with the mentally ill.

"It’s a real frustration for the police, its tragic for the individual involved, and I think its shameful the way our nation has failed to address this issue," says Chief Louis Dekmar, with the LaGrange Police.

He estimates 25 percent of people killed by police have been affected my mental illness.

"It has been laid at the doorstep of police. And although we didn’t create the problem, leadership demands that we address it."

He's an advocate for stronger training for officers.

"This isn’t their choice, they’re not choosing to feel this way, they’re not choosing to act this way," says recruit William Treadwell.

Treadwell is training at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center. He is undergoing 5 day crisis intervention training, that touches on multiple mental health conditions officers will likely face in the field.  

We were allowed rare access to a training course.

"There are some people who they may be similar in a lot of ways, but there is a slight difference, and that’s going to completely change your approach with them," he says of what he is learning.

Special Agent Debbie Shaw with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, tries to teach just that.

"In the United States we have a large population who has a diagnosis," says Shaw.

"And officers need to understand the individuals, they need to understand mental health so that when an individual is in crisis, they’re recognizing the signs and the symptoms."

She says, believe it or not, the biggest take away here is a desire by law enforcement to keep folks out of jail and in treatment instead.

Hopefully, more often than not, allowing them to save a life instead of taking it.

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