I was asked to give a talk to police officers on the reason for starting a Crisis Intervention Training Course for Policemen. it was one o’clock and they were tired, hungry, bored, and half lying in their seats. My heart dropped. How was I going to to get them to listen to what I had to say? I took a deep breath, then said: “I know what you are thinking. What does this old woman think she can tell us?” They laughed, sat up straight, and gave me their attention. When they heard my story of mental illness in my family which lasted for 16 years, there was absolute silence. They probably won’t remember every word I said, but what I do know is that they will remember the way I made them feel.
I don’t want to turn them into psychologists. All I want is for them to be given the tools to help them when they come in contact with a person suffering from a mental illness who is probably not taking his/her meds regularly and who needs supervision until the episode has been brought under control.
Police officers need to meet people who suffer from mental illnesses. They need to know how to differentiate from an ill person and one on drugs. They need to know how to speak to them. For example, if a police officer makes a promise to a person suffering from a mental illness, now known as a consumer, he must keep that promise. If not, the consumer will not trust him the next time around. The officer should speak in a soft, calm voice. His walkie talkie should be turned down as low as possible. Loud noises and flashing lights only add to the consumer’s confusion.
These are only a few examples but they are not difficult to use and there are many more.