New Hampshire police have begun conducting sensitivity training for encounters with those with mental health issues.
Police are conducting live-action simulations of encounters, with one officer role-playing the mentally ill, to adequately prepare for real encounters. The approach focuses on showing a concern for the citizen’s wellbeing, and emphasizes a calm, peaceful tone, showing no aggression while displaying legitimate compassion. Officers are trained to remain calm and non-threatening and use first names, while avoiding whispering, laughing, or initiating an arrest for non-criminal behavior. Above all, they are trained to de-escalate situations verbally and avoid physical force.
A small step in the right direction away from escalation tactics
This more compassionate approach to the mentally ill represents a welcome small step away from aggressive escalation- and intimidation-based policing. The public would be well-served if police adopted this sort of training for all encounters, not only for those with the mentally ill.
The Detroit-based Threat Management Center, a private security and community defense firm, adopts an approach to protection that is centered on de-escalation of conflict and resolving situations through peaceful means. Over the past 20 years of operation, no Threat Management members, or those they are charged to protect, have been killed.
Mentally ill/disabled disproportionately affected by police abuse.
Those with mental issues are far more vulnerable to abuse caused by aggressive policing than the average citizen. According to a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, the mentally ill are 16 times more likely to be killed by police. In 2015, police killed 324 people exhibiting signs of mental illness.