Salt Lake City officers undergo training to better address those with mental health issues

SALT LAKE CITY – Part of a police officer’s job is to deal with people who have mental health issues—that’s why they undergo crisis intervention training.

The Salt Lake City Police Department held a training for officers enrolled in the Crisis Intervention Team Academy.

“It's a 40-hour academy where we cover mental health issues,” Det. Joseph Taylor said.

Officers acted out scenarios, based on calls the department has handled in real life.

From someone with PTSD or suicidal thoughts, to intellectual disability and dementia, they said it’s important to recognize the symptoms.

“They can be very difficult," Taylor said. "Sometimes they're straight forward, and sometimes they can be very complicated. So, when you're walking into it initially, you kinda don't know what to expect."

In one scenario, a woman believes her neighbors are spying on her.

“Immediately she thought the officers were part of it with their cameras there,” said Jessica Waters, a therapist.

The goal is to calm her down, but that’s not easy.

“We have to play it by our personalities, by what we say," Waters said. "One individual, they won't be set off by many things. Another person will be set off by every word you say. You have to be very gentle."

Once the officer gets the person to cooperate, it’s about finding a solution for today.

“It's not illegal to be mentally ill," Waters said. "It's a matter of when you're at risk of hurting yourself or someone else, or unable to care for yourself."

Ultimately, the officer can direct the person to long-term resources. But more importantly, they develop empathy for this vulnerable group.

“The hope is to have officers understand, yes, this is a policing issue, but also let's help this person because they're an individual just like I am,” Waters said.