November 15, 2004
East Valley police will spend this week imagining what it would be like to hear yelling voices in their heads while seeing hallucinations at the same time.
Twenty-five officers from Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Phoenix will participate in Police Crisis Intervention Training, a 40-hour seminar sponsored by mental health officials with ValueOptions.
Over the course of the week, officers will learn about the different types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, from health care professionals, people with mental illnesses and their family members, said Jim Stringham, ValueOptions director of training.
"One of our biggest goals is for officers to have more perspective and empathy for the mentally ill," Stringham said. "If they’re aware of what it’s like (to be mentally ill), maybe the officers will think differently and slow things down."
Officers will put on headphones, listen to recorded voices and carry on a conversation at the same time, he said.
"If they have that experience, we hope that when they are actually faced with that situation and they’re talking to someone with a mental illness, they’ll remember it," Stringham said. "Maybe they’ll be able to slow down and remember not to get upset."
At the end of the week, officers will participate in scenarios and be asked to test what they’ve learned — perhaps in a mock hostage situation, he said.
ValueOptions gave training sessions to Phoenix officers about three years ago, and East Valley agencies started last year, he said.
Although Mesa officers regularly received some training on the mentally ill and disabled, officials decided to push up plans to participate in the 40-hour program following the shootings of Mario Madrigal Jr. and Mary Ann Minchew in August 2003, said Tom Gussie, Mesa police crisis intervention training coordinator.
Both Madrigal, 15, and Minchew, 23, were armed with knives when they rushed officers and were shot after unsuccessful efforts to stun them. Crisis training helps officers identity the different types of mental illness and act accordingly, Gussie said.
For instance, if an officer encounters a bipolar patient having a problem but not acting violently, the officer can ask whether the person is on medication, when it was last taken and whether the person has a case manager or physician, Gussie said.
More than 300 officers — 50 from Mesa — have attended the free quarterly sessions since the program began, Stringham said.
"We want to get enough officers trained so that there is at least one (crisis intervention) officer in every beat," Stringham said.