To the editor:
I am writing to thank our senator, Christine Rolfes, for sponsoring legislation that would require crisis intervention training for all Washington police officers.
Mental illness is not unusual. It is a fact of life for many Americans.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around one in four adults experiences some sort of diagnosable mental disorder each year. Approximately one in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Mental illness is the leading cause of disability in our country
Police encounter the mentally ill, and people exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, on a regular basis. These encounters, when handled well, show the best in police practices: compassion, strategic sense, the capacity to balance public safety with individual well-being.
When handled poorly, the interactions are tragic: a mentally impaired woodcarver shot dead in Seattle; a mentally disabled man beaten to death in Spokane; a fellow Islander, Doug Ostling, killed in his apartment during what should have been a routine welfare check.
Crisis intervention training for police officers does not guarantee that all police encounters with the mentally impaired will end well. But it does give the police more tools to use in these situations. Studies show that crisis intervention training gives officers improved rapport-building skills and de-escalation abilities, and enhances communication between officers and family members. Officers with crisis intervention training seem more adept than their non-trained peers at identifying signs of illness, and are more proactive in referring people for treatment.
Interestingly, studies show that officers with training find people in the mental health system more helpful than their non-trained peers, suggesting that officers with specialized training are better at navigating the medical system.
Senator Rolfe’s bill (SB 5532), along with a companion bill sponsored by Representative Appleton (HB 1559) is being considered by state legislators. Islanders for Collaborative Policing joins the Criminal Justice Training Commission and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs in supporting this bill, and urges our Bainbridge neighbors to do the same.
Islanders for Collaborative Policing