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Police train to handle encounters with mentally ill, including veterans

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two recent police encounters with military veterans on the Wasatch Front point to a troubling reality for our country. A small percentage of vets who return home from war with psychological problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, end up in violent showdowns with police. Police across the state have been training for those encounters.

Most veterans who come home to our neighborhoods make the transition without any troubles. But there are simply more veterans among us after a decade of war. Police who train for crisis intervention can reduce the volatility of those situations.

Monday, police arrested a 40-year-old Gulf War veteran who fired shots in his home, and held off police for three hours. Police said he suffered from PTSD, and was taken to a mental health facility.

Last weekend, in Riverton, a similar standoff ended when an Iraq War veteran committed suicide after a ten-hour standoff. We do not know whether he suffered from PTSD, but police say he fired a shot at his wife, and made threats against police and himself.

Detective Ron Bruno of the Salt Lake City Police Department trains Crisis Intervention Teams statewide. They train officers to identify mental health issues, de-escalate volatile situations, and find resources to help the person in crisis.

It's not necessarily that we're going to handle a returning vet differently than we're going to deal with any other type of person.

–Ron Bruno

"It's not necessarily that we're going to handle a returning vet differently than we're going to deal with any other type of person," Bruno said. "The idea is that we're going to identify whether we're dealing with somebody who is emotionally charged, whether it's PTSD, or some type of other mental disorder."

Then, they'll calm the person down, try to reason with him, and give him options for help. Studies show that 1 in 5 military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has PTSD. The FBI has compiled statistics on thousands of barricaded stand-offs with police over the last 16 years. In 6 percent of those stand-offs, the person involved was a veteran or active-duty member of the military. So, police prepare.

"Do they work every time? Absolutely not," Bruno said. "There are still times when I have to utilize physical restraints, there are times when I have to look at tactical options. But, many times I'm able to de-escalate the situation with verbal tactics, and then find the resources to find those permanent solutions."

Right now, 14% of law enforcement in the state have CIT training. The goal is to get many more in each department prepared for those situations.


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Jed Boal


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