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Training videos to help interactions with the mentally ill

The New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service is working with the Forensic Intervention Consortium of Dona Ana County, ValueOptions, the National Sheriff's Association and Dona Ana County to create crisis intervention self-directed training for law enforcement officials who work with the mentally ill.

olice officers are not trained to deal with the mentally ill," said Ron Gurley, NMSU development officer, president of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and training consultant for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).

Gurley and others are trying to increase knowledge through CIT, "a state-of the-art online teaching program to teach law enforcement officers and others anytime, anyplace." CIT is a multifaceted training program that includes 24 hours of Web or DVD delivered video, lectures from psychiatrists and pharmacists and realistic "live fire" scenarios with actors.

The videos are an intricate part of the program that give officers an opportunity to repeatedly observe the correct behavior in dangerous situations through simulations of real incidents involving the interaction between the mentally ill and police.

"We're having law enforcement officials tell us what scenarios they are most likely to encounter," said Tim Pinnow, an associate professor of theater arts at NMSU and a certified teacher and sanctioned fight director with the Society of American Fight Directors, who is assisting with production of the videos. "We're using their answers to help us create scenarios."

Pinnow is confident that the videos will be accurate.

"We're trying to create a video that is believable to law enforcement officers," Pinnow said. "It shouldn't be difficult to create that kind of realism."

Because our area has a higher population of mentally ill adults, Gurley said, many problems can be avoided by utilizing CIT. One potential tragedy, known as "death by cop," is a form of suicide in which the mentally ill individual forces police officers to kill him or her by threatening the officers with a weapon. Gurley said after implementing CIT, the chief of police in Albuquerque reported 11 such shootings that have been prevented, and Gurley himself knows of four avoided shootings in the Las Cruces area.

"When mentally ill people have episodes, the police are called, they come in and if they don't know what they're dealing with it is potentially very dangerous," Gurley said.

With the application of CIT however, crisis teams will be notified by dispatchers who will request help from trained CIT officers.

"This is a great benefit for families and consumers (of mental health care) because they know they're being handled properly," Gurley said.

Austin Craig
Sept. 13, 2006