SEATTLE -- A program teaching police officers how to defuse tense situations is evolving and expanding in Washington state. Its number one goal is safety when police encounter people with mental health issues.
The state's police academy has trained more than 2,000 officers in King County since 2010. Recruits learn that being sensitive to those with delusions and knowing the right things to say is the best way for officers and civilians to resolve issues and stay safe, according to academy director Sue Rahr.
"We are devoting more time and more focus on teaching them to deal with human behavior because at the end of the day, the majority of a police officer's job is to manage human behavior," said Rahr.
The academy says its program helps prevent suicides, officer-involved shootings and lowers the number of repeat 911 nuisance calls. Officials also say the program allows authorities to find help for people suffering from PTSD.
Beginning in 2014, the academy received funding from the state legislature to infuse crisis intervention training into the basic law enforcement academy. It's all part of a 5-month long process that includes the Seattle Police Department and many other agencies throughout Washington.
An organization called Sound Mental Health in the Capitol Hill neighborhood partners with the state by providing role-playing exercises that focus on scenarios officers may face on the streets. Sound Mental Health also educates officers on many misconceptions of people with mental health illnesses.
"Statistics show that people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violent crime than to perpetrate them," Bekka Sartwell with Sound Mental Health said. "Jail is not necessarily the appropriate place for this person. An arrest isn't what they're looking for. Police can serve as a referral source for the individual."
Rahr says referring people to places they can receive help is much more cost effective for the taxpayer because jail time doesn't help resolve the source of the problems.