Indianapolis officers begin training on mental illness

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dozens of officers with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department are learning how to recognize mental illness when responding to calls and the steps needed to keep those situations from escalating.

Five days of training with the Crisis Intervention Team began Monday at the police academy. About 40 officers are participating in an effort to help them better understand mental illness, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, the legal process and how to engage others while on a call.

"It's just an everyday reality for patrol officers and mental health, medics, firefighters, and everyone (who) deals (with) a lot of mental illness," said Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department patrol officer Tim Westerhof. "People (are) dealing with mental illness on the street, in homes, at work."

The ultimate goal is to make situations safer for police officers and the public, as well as getting people with mental illnesses the help and support they need.

"As a patrol officer you deal with calls from families pleading — sometimes begging — for help with mental illness," said Westerhof.

On Monday, officers involved in the training program watched documentaries and listened to guest speakers. At the end of the first day, Westerhof said he had already grasped the importance of being patient and being a good listener.

"One of the things that I've really taken away from this is to really listen to the family members and not just the person who can pull it together for a few minutes and talk to us and sound pretty coherent and lucid, but really listen to what the family is telling us is happening when we're not there," he said.

The Crisis Intervention Team program has trained more than 200 police officers in Indianapolis.

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