By Lillian Schrock
Corvallis police officer Josh Zessin on Friday sat next to a woman who was forlorn over a breakup. He asked her what happened.
“I’d be upset, too,” Zessin told the woman.
After talking more about the woman’s separation with her boyfriend, Zessin asked her if she had tried to harm herself. She told him “yes,” and revealed her wrists. He asked if he could take her to the hospital to see a doctor, and she consented.
The woman Zessin was talking to was an employee at Trillium Family Services who was acting during a scenario-based training exercise for police officers. More than a dozen law enforcement officers from Benton County agencies last week underwent training on how to better respond to mental health crisis situations.
Liz Scott, a crisis services supervisor for Benton County Mental Health who facilitated the role-playing scenario, told Zessin he had succeeded in building rapport with the woman using reflective listening techniques. Those techniques are some of the de-escalation skills officers learned during the week-long school, which is known as Crisis Intervention Team training.
The training program was created in Memphis in 1988 following the fatal shooting by a police officer of a man with a history of mental illness and substance abuse. The goal of the training is to increase safety during crisis situations and divert people with mental illnesses from the criminal justice system to mental health treatment.