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SALT LAKE CITY -- The death of a 32-year-old man who was tased by police in southern Utah is again focusing attention on the critical need for crisis intervention training.
The people behind the statewide project are trying to reach and certify as many police officers as they can as quickly as possible.
Currently, one out of four people in any given year are diagnosed with a mental disorder. It's estimated 75 percent of the calls for help that police dispatchers now intercept involve some kind of mental health issue.
The Utah Crisis Intervention Team program, or CIT, has center around the state where police officers can go to learn how to diffuse situations often involving people with mental illnesses.
"You've got to slow things down and try to deal around that crisis situation," said Salt Lake City police Detective Ron Bruno, who heads up CIT. "We want to have a CIT officer on duty on all patrol shifts in all Utah jurisdictions"
If officers pass 40 hours of intense training, plus this scenario-based program, plus a state written exam, they become sort of a new breed of enforcers who try to resolve a crisis without using any weapon.
"Learn how to be calm yourself, how to get down on their level," explained Barry Rose, with Valley Mental Health's Community Treatment Program. "Most of the time, it's a matter of helping people understand and get their balance back."
Rose and his colleagues work in partnership with police, helping them understand how to help someone in a panic with a mental health issue where perhaps, if only for a moment, that person has lost touch with reality.
"With a badge on and in a uniform, there is a barrier right there," Rose said. "It takes more time to sort of tell people they are there to help them."
Officers are trained to recognize both psychological and physical symptoms of a mental illness. "People in a panic get very agitated and their heart is racing and they are hyperventilating," Rose said.
And they need help: 10 percent of all officers in the state are currently CIT certified. While the St. George Police Department is certified, Hurricane officers have not yet had the training.