SALT LAKE CITY — KSL investigators have spent six months looking into the process of training officers to deal with mental health calls.
KSL Investigates polled more than 50 law enforcement agencies in Utah’s five largest counties to see how many have completed the initial training for the Crisis Intervention Team — or CIT.
The statewide numbers for those agencies are barely half.
One Salt Lake City family knows firsthand the heartbreak, and they understand just how complex those calls can be.
Carson Smith, also known as “Man-Cub,” is a 22-year-old man who has autism.
“I call him 95% teddy bear, 5% grizzly,” said his mom, Cheryl.
She said her son is “severely affected” and is nearly nonverbal.
“He has these really extreme behaviors where he hurts himself, and he’ll hurt me,” she said.
Cheryl described herself as absolutely “pro-police.”
However, even when Carson has hurt her, she doesn’t call officers for help.
“I wouldn’t call the police because I don’t know what I’m going to get,” she said. “… They certainly have reason to be concerned or intimidated or not know how to handle the situation because every person with autism is different.”
That’s why the Autism Council of Utah has been working on “autism-specific training” for law enforcement. That training is now in the spotlight after police shot 13-year-old Linden Cameron.
“We are facing a mental health crisis in this country — with a void of resources for those in crisis,” said Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown. “Make no mistake. This is a crisis.”
Autism is a small focus of CIT training. In Salt Lake City, a four-hour training course outside the police academy teaches officers how to respond to those experiencing crisis and mental illness.
A KSL investigation in July found that although CIT training is mandatory for SLCPD officers and all new recruits receive it, that doesn’t mean every officer is trained.
The investigation revealed almost 75% of officers in that department had ever received the training — and only one-third of those officers had kept their certification current.
Detective Joseph Taylor runs CIT training for the SLCPD, and he said recertification is a challenge.
“When people take time off to even go to training or do that, it takes a big chunk out of their ability to respond to things,” he said.
Taylor maintained CIT is a priority in Salt Lake City.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “… There’s always new and better information coming out. There’s always, you know, things we can learn, things we can do better.”
Those lessons will be critical as police weigh what happened when officers shot Cameron.
As for Cheryl Smith, she said she believes as long as police respond to the calls, training has to change.
“We can start with more training, intense training — autism specific,” she said. “I would love to see it be mandatory.”
State Rep. Steven Eliason echoed that sentiment, saying that he wants CIT training to be mandatory for every law enforcement officer in Utah.
Eliason said he plans to introduce that legislation into the next session.
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