Usher said that many police departments prefer to train only a few specialized officers to deal with crisis issues, rather than making mental health training mandatory.
“[The department] would be over-resourced for a certain small number of incidents,” Usher said. “Not everyone is well-skilled for a certain task. What most communities want to do is develop a group of officers who are highly trained, and they’re the ones who are called in a crisis.”
But what happens if the first responder isn’t properly trained to handle the situation?
“If the officer knows this is out of his scope, it’s generally best for them to step back, call for backup and not engage beyond their skills,” Usher said.
In his article “Art of De-Escalation,” Michael Woody, president of CIT International, said that a lack of police personnel and a lack of funds is no excuse for not doing something when it comes to educating and training officers on mental health issues.
Woody chose to do something himself during his career with the Akron, Ohio police department after he encountered a 27-year-old mentally ill individual who threatened Woody’s life and ultimately committed suicide.
The incident never left Woody and prompted him to challenge the five mandatory hours of mental health training officers were required to obtain in the state of Ohio. He was ultimately able to convince the state attorney general to increase the five required hours to 16.
Woody’s interest in mental health didn’t stop there. He researched the number of hours of mental health training required of officers in different states, ultimately revealing a wide range of program requirements.
What he found was a sliding scale of 0-40 mandatory hours of training. Many states have no mandatory training for an issue that accounts for 10 percent of police calls, Woody said.
“Alaska had the highest number of overall training hours, but when it came to mental health there was nothing we could find,” Woody said. “But in Florida, in the academy, the officers received 40 hours of mental health training.”
Even some states, like Hawaii, that have a registered CIT program require zero mental health training hours for officers.
Of the 37 states that responded to Woody’s inquiries, the majority require 8 hours or less.
The issue of force, due to the Capitol Hill shooting, has been called into question.
“Looking at the incident at the Capitol it’s hard to Monday-morning quarterback it,” Usher said. “It’s hard to look at what could have been done differently… I don’t know that anyone knows exactly the circumstances.”
Whether or not Miriam Carey was receiving proper mental health care prior to the incident—and whether earlier intervention would have been possible—is also unknown at this point.
But Usher did say that since the CIT program’s introduction in 1988 by the University of Memphis, CIT-trained officers have been found less likely to use force when responding to mental health calls. Officer injuries have also dropped 80 percent across the board when responding to mental health calls, Usher said.