The ranks of the elderly are growing, and with them the number of people with dementia. As a result, older people and law enforcement officers are crossing paths more frequently, recent data suggests — sometimes with terrible consequences.
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“A really important part of law enforcement is making sure you keep your people mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually fit so they can do the work they are meant to do,” South Carolina Police Chief Gregory Mullen said.
Executive Director of the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center Rob Johnson explained that what is intended for the region may end up being a pilot project for the entire state. The initiative would provide an assessment tool they can use when individuals come into and through the system.
The Council of State Governments says most states have some form of de-escalation training, but the programs may differ depending on department size and funding.
Police across the country are working on ways to de-escalate potential confrontations with the public, focusing their resources on dealing with those with mental illnesses.
Supporters of the new training requirements say officers need to be equipped to deal with people whose actions can be ascribed to illness, not ill intent.
“The main goal is to keep people with mental illness out of jail if they do not have to go to jail,” said Brent Hurley with the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Crisis Response Division.
In 2010, the Council of State Governments recognized the program as one of six in police departments across the country that other police agencies can visit to learn how to improve their response toward individuals with behavioral health disorders.
The officers being trained in de-escalation are encouraged to communicate and empathize with suspects, take stock of the factors contributing to a confrontation, and consider ways to disengage before the situation spirals out of control, leading to the use of force.
“That individual was taken into custody with no injuries and has since been receiving mental health therapy and doing very well,” said Sgt. Malcolm Draper, police supervisor for the Mobile Crisis Response Team.