Massachusetts police receiving training in approaching mentally ill

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As tragic incidences of encounters between law enforcement officers and those with severe metal illness rise, training programs and changes to procedure are beginning to be considered. In Massachusetts, one such change is happening as officers are receiving training in identifying and dealing with mental illness as well as seeing new procedures being implemented for when they arrive on the scene and determine that a person they're dealing with is mentally ill.

Police academy graduates in Massachusetts are receiving a 12-hour training regimen meant to not only help them identify mental illness in a suspect, but to de-escalate encounters and prevent avoidable arrests or violence. The program is also being offered to departments as an update course for current officers on the force.

Program training includes identification of mental health signals, simulations to show the officer what a mentally ill person may be going through, and processes that can be used to calm the person and de-escalate potentially violent situations.

The design of the course is to keep small incidences of mental illness from turning into catastrophies such as that which happened when Wilfredo Justiano Jr. acted erratically, causing people to call 911, which ultimately resulted in an officer shooting Justiano when he lunged at the policeman to stab him with a pen.

The situation never had to go that far. Had the officer had a better understanding of how to deal with the person, it likely would not have escalated as procedures for calming people without mental illness are not always effective with those who have an illness like Justiano did.

It's a big step forward. More information on the training being conducted in Massachusetts can be found here.


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