U police trained for crises

Crisis management was at the forefront of a new training for University police officers.

Actress Danielle Krivinshuk plays the role of a university student in crisis as UMPD Sgt. Peter Reineke responds to the situation. Crisis Intervention Team training is a popular method for police departments across the country for teaching officers how to respond to mental health calls by finding help and resources for the troubled individual.

Maddy Fox

Actress Danielle Krivinshuk plays the role of a university student in crisis as UMPD Sgt. Peter Reineke responds to the situation. Crisis Intervention Team training is a popular method for police departments across the country for teaching officers how to respond to mental health calls by finding help and resources for the troubled individual.

Hannah Weikel

From suicide attempts to disagreements with landlords over pet-keeping rules, University of Minnesota police are now better suited for calls from students in crisis.
 
 
As of Wednesday, all University officers completed de-escalation training for crisis situations including those caused by mental health conditions, which appear to be on the rise at the University.
 
 
Mental health issues are more common among University students than previously thought, prompting a surge in demand for counseling, said Gary Christenson, chief medical officer for Boynton Health Service. 
 
 
Students floundering in waitlists for counseling services are often unaware of other options available to them, Christenson said, like Boynton’s 24-hour crisis hotline. He said it only received 57 calls last semester because of a lack in awareness.
 
 
Instead, students tend to call 911 with mental-health-related crises, said University of Minnesota Police Department Chief Matt Clark. 
 
 
He said 25 to 30 percent of 911 calls the UMPD gets are crisis related. These aren’t always mental health related but do involve some level of distress, he said.
Results from Boynton’s 2015 study show about 30 percent of the campus’ population has dealt with mental illness in their lifetime.
 
 
 “The stress of being away from home for the first time, having to make new friends, handling money — it can be a lot,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota. “If you have a predisposition of mental illness, these things really come through in college years.” 
 
 
Abderholden said studies show mental illness emerges most commonly in high school and college-age people, and 75 to 80 percent of all mental illnesses develop by the age 26. 
 
 
“You are going to have young people on campus who either already have a mental illness or who are developing their mental illness while studying there,” Abderholden said. “It is really important that police understand these issues and respond in a calm and good way.”
 
 
Before last week, only 12 UMPD officers had Crisis Intervention Team training, Clark said. Those officers tried to respond to all mental health calls, but CIT officers were often busy or another nontrained officer was closer, which is why Clark saw a need to have all other officers trained, he said.
 
 
Now the UMPD has given all of its 50 officers varying degrees of CIT or de-escalation training, one of the only departments in the state to do so, he said. 
 
 
UMPD officer Josh Betts has responded to crisis calls in the University area since joining the force in 1998. He volunteered for CIT training four years ago through the Minneapolis Police Department. He said UMPD has focused funds and time on training officers since Clark became chief last July.
 
Approaching crises
 
As a tool for dealing with crisis calls, Betts said he has memorized many of the medications often prescribed for mental illnesses. That way, he said, the people he’s helping need only to list off their meds, not what ails them. 
 
 
“That’s not the easiest question to ask. There’s still a stigma,” he said. “And I think we still have a long way to go, but I think more understand that it’s something that … we
all probably have to deal with at some time or another.” 
 
 
Betts said he first got interested in the crisis team when UMPD requested volunteers for a 40-hour crisis education course hosted by the local Barbara Schneider Foundation.
 
 
The foundation began in 2002, two years after Minneapolis police officers shot and killed Schneider during a confrontation in a mental health crisis call.
 
 
Now more than 15 years after her death, the foundation hires trainers and actors to teach groups of police officers, health care workers, high school teachers and prison guards how to de-escalate crisis situations.
 
 
The Barbara Schneider Foundation has also worked with MPD in the past, but only about a third of their force has completed CIT training. 
 
 
Over two days in the past week, the UMPD completed a short eight-hour training session of role-play, verbal skills and practice scenarios, which cost $5,000, Clark said.  The trainers also emphasize verbal communication and slowed-down interactions to reduce the need for force. 
 
 
“People in a mental health crisis are feeling two things: alone and scared,” trauma and recovery specialist Sarah Doyle said. “You may not know why they are feeling those two things, but you understand what those two emotions are because they’re human emotions and we’ve all felt them.”
 
 
When they respond to a crisis situation, officers are encouraged to nurture empathy so that they can calm someone in distress and resolve situations nonviolently. 
 
 
“In Minnesota, officers aren’t mandated to receive CIT training,” Schneider Foundation Executive Director Mark Anderson said. “But they are most often the first responder in crisis situations, and that’s when people get hurt. So we advocate that all officers get trained.”