Twin Cities officers taking Crisis Intervention training to help people with mental illness

Some Twin Cities police departments are getting more training in dealing with those with mental illness and the lessons could go a long way in improving difficult encounters with all citizens.

It's called Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and teaches officers to de-escalate encounters when they respond to a call, giving them a chance to connect with the subject of an incident.     

Last March, police were called to help a naked man in the middle of Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. When they responded, he pounded on a police squad car and asked officers to shoot him.

There were a number of ways the encounter could have gone wrong, but it went by the book.  Officers waited for back up, calmed and contained the man. They eventually convinced him they were not going to hurt him, until officers got close enough to use a Taser. It was a classic case of de-escalation.

"Talk to any cop, some of the worst encounters are with naked people in crisis," said Deputy Chief Mary Nash of the St. Paul Police Department.

Robert Wood was naked too and barricaded in his home, when he shot a police officer in the face with an air rifle in January of 2015.

His girlfriend told police he wanted to die and wanted police to pull the trigger

Officer Jamie Sipes was the crisis negotiator. After two hours, he convinced Wood to give up.

"That situation will forever stay with me," said Sipes. "That started as a welfare check and he truly wanted help."

It is estimated that one in 10 police calls involves someone in a mental health crisis.

In Minneapolis, there were 8,613 calls in a recent 21 month period for emotionally disturbed persons (EDP). 
In St. Paul, there were 5,259 EDP calls during the same period (January 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016).

Bridge jumpers in St. Paul appear at least once a week, most are calmly talked down.  
According to the National Sheriffs’ Association, half of all people shot and killed by police in the U.S. are mentally ill.


Phillip Quinn, a schizophrenic who was just released from a psych unit, had already stabbed himself in the throat and chest when his girlfriend called 911 for the second time on Sept. 24, 2015.

"I was asking them why the guns? What the hell are you doing? It happened so quick. I can't even begin to tell you," said Quinn's partner, Darleen Tareeq.

Quinn ran as soon as he saw police. The officer said he was cornered with no choice, but to shoot and kill. A grand jury agreed.

"He was so quick to take a shot, said Tareeq.  "There was no conversation with Phillip and no time to reason with him or anything."

For officers dealing with the mentally ill, Nash said time becomes the enemy: seconds spiral, options close, until the worst case scenario seems almost inevitable. 

"Engaging people in crisis is about slowing things down, listening and we know yelling and screaming doesn't get us anywhere," Nash said.

Sue Abderholden, executive director at the Minnesota chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI-MN), said police are taught to come in big to a situation and take control quickly.

“You can't convince someone they're not having their delusions.  You have to work and partner with them," said Abderholden.


According to the Police Executive Research Forum, the average police officer in America receives 58 hours of firearms training, 49 hours of defensive tactical training, but if they are lucky, only eight hours of de-escalation training.

But in Minnesota, that is changing. St. Paul and Minneapolis police officers are now getting 40 hours of CIT. 
Controlled scenarios include trained actors who play the role of someone who is mentally ill or on drugs. 
The officers learn to approach slowly, introduce themselves and make eye contact.

They are taught to ask open ended questions and paraphrase what the person is saying, to show they're listening.

The officer is buying time, while keeping a safe distance, and containing the suspect.

Mike Peterson is a trainer with Minnesota CIT Officers Association. A former Burnsville police officer, and a trained therapist, Peterson says some officers come in skeptics, thinking they will have to give up a tactical advantage, but they leave true believers. 

"I've had officers who have said this has saved my career," said Peterson.


The Fox 9 Investigators spent a day with on patrol with Sipes. He received a call about a woman who was worried about her boyfriend, that he may be on drugs and he may be a suicide risk.

The man told police he was using heroin again, but instead of handcuffs, Sipes offered an empathetic ear. 

The man had an unusual request that is not in the training manual: he wanted someone to pray with.  

"In this case, he just wanted to talk a little bit and he wanted to pray," Sipes said. "It's happened before. It doesn't happen every week. But anytime someone wants to do that I'll do that with them.


All Minneapolis patrol officers will receive the training by the end of this year and St. Paul officers by next year.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is using the training for its jail staff and the Minnesota Department of Corrections is using it in the prison system. 

And it is expected there will be some kind of legislation introduced at the Capitol requiring CIT across the state.