Knowing about mental health disorders is nice, but officers need hands-on expertise confronting them, Boise Community Ombudsman Pierce Murphy wrote in a report released Friday.
Of the 40 hours that new Boise police officers spend learning about mental health and other crises, only 4.5 hours are devoted to scenario-based training, according to Murphy's report.
Training to handle crisis situations should be as routine as firearm practice, so that when those situations arise, officers respond appropriately without having to think about it, Murphy said.
In recent years, Police Chief Michael Masterson said, officers have responded to a growing number of incidents in which they face people in some kind of crisis, whether it's due to mental illness, drugs and alcohol, or attempted suicide. Last year, the department responded to more than 6,000 such calls.
All sworn officers have received four hours of crisis intervention overview training. As a result, Masterson said, they've become more adept at handling what can be complicated and dangerous confrontations, Masterson said.
"They can recognize some of the behaviors that are associated with the mental health disorders," he said. "They're more confident in the way that they present their language to people to help defuse situations."
Almost 80 percent of the department's officers haven't gone through the 40-hour program, which is mandated for new hires but voluntary for veteran officers.
Masterson said he doesn't have the manpower or budget to mandate the program for all officers.
Besides, the training tends to be less effective for officers who are forced to do it than for those who volunteer, Murphy said.
In his report, Murphy said the Police Department needs to do more than train. It needs to foster a culture that values crisis training as a worthwhile effort, he said, and build its partnerships with other agencies, social services and behavioral health providers.
Masterson said the mental health coordinator he plans to hire in October will work with agencies such as the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, as well as review crisis-related data and help the department develop its policies for responding to crisis situations. The part-timer won't be a sworn officer, he said, but someone with a background in dealing with people in crisis.
Masterson also wants the state to help by paying for crisis intervention resources, such as a counseling center where officers can take people in crisis.
"It's good for the Boise Police Department in that we're making progress in dealing with people in crisis and having mental health issues, but it can't go on forever that we're the only people that are doing it," he said. "I think the report is a good rallying call to remind the state Legislature that ... we need to do more so that Boise police and law enforcement in Idaho in general are not at the front to dealing with people in crisis."
Sven Berg: 377-6275