Law enforcement officers always have to be prepared for anything, but answering calls for mental health issues can pose some unique challenges.
The La Crosse police department received a $35,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department Office of Justice Assistance to offer local law enforcement additional training.
As mental health issues are playing more of a role in crimes they're seeing, it becomes that much more important for officers to know what signs to look for and how to handle the situation correctly.
“We're trying to do the right thing for the right people, and sometimes the old thing wasn't the right thing for the right people,” said Lt. Chuck Frandsen of the La Crosse Police Department.
In his 13 years with the La Crosse police department, Frandsen has responded to his fair share of mental health calls.
“Sometimes it's a daily thing,” said Frandsen. “Sometimes it's a multi-daily thing (and) sometimes it doesn't happen for a week.”
He said knowing the right way to respond can make a big difference.
“If we treat the people in the wrong way and we just storm in there, ‘I'm in control, I'm in charge. You're going to do what I say’ then these people sometimes have a lot of different reactions,” said Frandsen.
The grant allows officers and county sheriff deputies to refresh the skills they have learned throughout their career and gain new ones through additional crisis intervention training.
Over time, new response methods are developed and resources change.
“One particular issue is being able to recognize and access the services from one place to another,” said Debra Day of the La Crosse County Mental Health Recovery Services. “One of the things I think is special about CIT training is that is one of our focuses today.” “‘How can we help the police officers help the people they have contact with in our community access the services they need?’”
They're learning to look for signs like depression, a change in mood, substance abuse, addiction problems, thought disorders like Schizophrenia or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Depending on how officers handle the situation could mean the difference between someone having a medical or a criminal record.
“If you have a medical record that's related to mental health, you are much more likely to be hired than if you have a criminal record that's forced on you because of the behavior related to the illness,” said Margaret Larson of the La Crosse Mental Health Coalition.
While there's never a one size fits all response for every situation, training on how to identify the issues makes these officer's jobs of keeping the community safe a little easier.
“It makes us feel a lot better knowing that they got the help they need,” said Frandsen.
The grant is being used to facilitate three crisis intervention training sessions.
The sessions are geared towards responding to mental health crises in veterans and adolescents.
Frandsen said the extra training is especially important with vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
A lot of the veterans have PTSD issues, and obviously they are trained to a level through combat and through their military service that they could obviously do great harm to us, as officers, and to neighbors and other individuals in society,” said Frandsen.
This is the first time the La Crosse police department has received this grant.
The money is making it possible for about 75 law enforcement officers to receive the additional training.