FAQ: LAPD's multiple layers of mental health training

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It has yet to be established whether the man who was shot Sunday on L.A.'s Skid Row suffered from any kind of mental illness. But LAPD Chief Charlie Beck nevertheless made a point of noting that all of the officers involved in that shooting  have received special training in dealing with people who have mental illness. 

The LAPD offers various levels of mental health training for its officers. Here's a quick guide:

What kind of training did the officers have?

Chief Beck says  the officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the department's  Safer Cities Initiative, which launched in 2005 to deal with issues of crime on Skid Row.  As part of that program, he says, all were "specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues."

In that unit, officers are trained in a 2 1/2-hour course that updates the six hours of training all cadets get in the police academy. What's more, officers in that program are given priority to attend the LAPD”s week-long Mental Health Evaluation Training (MHIT).

What kind of training does MHIT provide to officers?

The course is a 36-hour intensive that covers all aspects of mental illness and crisis intervention. The training includes role playing exercises in which clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health act out common scenarios that officers are likely to come across in the field.

Those role plays include talking a jumper off a ledge; dealing with a person suffering from active delusions and helping families deal with a loved one in crisis.

Another exercise teaches officers what it's like for someone with paranoid delusions. One officer sits down while two people talk into each of his ears.  While that's happening, another person stands in front of the seated officer and gives him orders. The officer must then write down what he's able to hear.  The exercise is intended to show the police how hard it is for someone who might be hearing voices to follow their commands, and why many in the throes of delusions aren't able to follow their orders. 

Why doesn't every LAPD officer get this training?

The LAPD says the agency doesn't have the resources to provide training to each of the department's roughly 10,000 officers.  So the training is voluntary; there is a waiting list of officers who want to take it.  To accommodate more of them, the agency has this year increased the frequency of its MHIT offerings from every other month to every month. 

What other assistance does the LAPD provide to its officers?

The Mental Evaluation Unit is an operation comprised of 61 officer and detectives who partner with about 28 clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

The unit advises street cops on how to deal with the mentally ill; it sends its cop-clinician teams into the field to take over the more challenging mental health crisis calls from patrol officers – and it deploys detective-clinician teams to find help for those who cycle in and out of hospitals. These teams also work to identify those who are at greatest risk of a violent encounter with police or others.  The goal is to get them linked to services that will break that cycle.

How many calls for service does the Mental Evaluation Unit handle?

Last year, it handled more than 14,200 calls.  And  while the operation is the largest mental health detail of its kind in the nation, officials say L.A.'s mental health needs far exceed their staffing capabilities.


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