The mentally ill are a tricky population for police to deal with. Without proper training, a cop’s actions can actually aggravate a situation rather than diffuse it. A new virtual roleplaying game is designed to help police learn better ways of working with the mentally ill, in order to avoid confrontations and potential tragedies.
The training tool offers interactive video simulations of a variety of scenarios and asks the police to respond appropriately. They may encounter a suicidal teen on social networks or confront a paranoid schizophrenic on their front porch. The officers react and the scenes change, operated by a trainer on a computer.
The new tool was developed in conjunction with the county’s mental health liaison Patrick Dwyer, who says, “We are going to save lives with this.”
Police are frequently involved with the mentally ill simply because many people who would have previously had access to community based programming are having to go without. Jails and prisons have become the new mental health facilities and cops are dealing with sometimes volatile people with whom they have no training.
Two officers in Fullerton, for example, are facing criminal charges for beating an unarmed homeless man to death. He was mentally ill. “Several” mentally ill people have been shot and killed by San Jose police in recent years. Encounters like this aren’t entirely rare, which makes this new training device all the more important. If it can help officers prepare for such encounters, it can reduce the likelihood of such tragic occurrences.
The Palo Alto Police Department is first in line for training with the new equipment. Santa Clara Sheriff’s Department is next and the San Jose police will likely follow. True success would be measured if each local agency used such a training program and then turned around and utilized the gained knowledge in their daily interactions.
Because there is no one kind of mental illness and because all people are different, interacting with someone who is mentally ill can be uneventful or volatile. You never know what you will get. Being prepared for this uncertainty can be difficult, particularly if there is no way of knowing that the person you are encountering is, in fact, suffering from mental illness.
About 10 to 15% of an officer’s time is spent dealing with the mentally ill, according to Dwyer. But only a fraction of an officer’s total training is dedicated to this particular group of people. Mental health advocates hope this changes as time goes on and this particular interactive training module could be a step in the right direction.
Being involved in the criminal justice system is difficult no matter your mindset. If you are mentally ill, it can be particularly troubling. If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, you need the assistance of a criminal defense attorney. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case.