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Seattle Cops Train To Better Handle Mental Health Cases

Seattle Police Department patch.
Facebook Photo/Seattle Police Officers Guild
Seattle Police Department patch.

Seattle police come into contact with about 27 people every day who are experiencing a mental health crisis, including mental illness, dementia or drug-related issues.

Sgt. Dan Nelson is in charge of coordinating the Seattle Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Program, which acts as a bridge between the criminal justice system and social services.

“I say all the time, police and social workers are two completely different jobs while we're going towards the same common goal,” Nelson told KUOW’s David Hyde. “We want this person to not be relying on the emergency rooms and jails, not have to be such high utilizers of the system, and at the end of the day we want this person to have a nice productive life.”

Nelson said interactions between people with mental illness and law enforcement have historically been negative, but with the Crisis Intervention Program, Seattle is getting a better police response.

The program has also received praise from the federal monitor overseeing the department’s reforms. A report from Feb. 16 states, “There has been a real, tangible, and objective change in the way Seattle police are interacting – compassionately and with an eye towards treatment – with those in crisis.”

To become certified in the program, an officer must complete 40 hours of training on subjects such as recognizing types of mental illness and communicating with people who may be experiencing mental illness.

“Our understanding of what we're dealing with is growing, our understanding of different resources we can bring to bear to deal with folks is growing,” Nelson said.

These officers also work with mental health professionals in the field to offer services and collaborate with an individual’s care team.

Nelson sells the program to other cops as an investment in time that yields rewards on the back end.

“No officer wants to keep going out to deal with the same person the same incident over and over again,” he said. “If we spend a little bit more time and try and do a better job problem solving, there's a better likelihood that we're not going to deal with this person around this incident or these types of incidents again.”

Produced for the Web by Kara McDermott.

Year started with KUOW: 2006
Year started with KUOW: 2004