Minn. police officers train for mental health crisis calls

- A growing number of tense and potentially deadly situations officers are dealing with are mental health crisis calls and as the calls go up, so does the demand for training.

In Brooklyn Park, police officers are training with the help of professional actors to make the simulations feel as real as possible.

The training simulations take place in a classroom setting with actors who never break character. In one situation, a woman has just been fired. She is outside her former workplace trying to provoke a suicide by cop that the person who fired her will see.

“Well trained officers will quickly pick up [that], wait a minute, there are signs here that there's some mental illness,” Brooklyn Park police deputy Chief Mark Bruley said.

Brooklyn Park deputy chief Mark Bruley says dealing with a crisis situation is vastly different from a criminal one. Instead of acting immediately to stop a threat, in a crisis situation the officers learn to deescalate and diffuse the emotion.

“The difference in cases like this is I may say something like "stop doing that" or "I’m here to help you" and they're hearing it much different in their mind and understanding it to be much different,” Bruley said.

Brooklyn Park hosted the weeklong training with more than 30 officers from across the metro. The nonprofit that provides the training says they’ve had a class somewhere almost every week.

Steve Wickelgren of the Minnesota Crisis Intervention Training says the demand for this type of training is growing because whether it’s life’s stressors or the economy or some other reason, these situations are more a part of the job than ever.

“Part of it is due to the fact that the stigma is wearing away little by little and people are calling up and saying I’m having a mental health crisis issue,” Wickelgren said.

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