IMPD officers trained to defuse mental illness patients

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Sept. 3, 2015)-- When an IMPD officer hears a call for a 10-96 incident, he or she knows there is either a drunk or medicated or mentally unstable person at the end of the run.

Marion County Sheriff John Layton estimates 40 percent of the people in his jail are struggling with mental illness issues. His nurses hand out 700 doses of psychotropic drugs everyday.

Layton will ask city county councilors for $8 million in his next budget to spend on offenders with mental health needs in 2016.

This week veteran and rookie IMPD officers are under going 40 hours of training on how to deal with people who have mental health or traumatic brain injury problems.

"We're concentrating on general recognition of what mental illness symptons are, what the effects of the prescriptions of what many of these people are taking are and what those effects are when they go off," said IMPD Training Branch Commander Major James Cleek. "Their reality is different than our reality and what they're experiencing is real."

The IMPD Crisis Intervention Team has been conducting mental illness awareness training for 13 years, seven years after then-Governor Evan Bayh announced the closing of Central State Hospital, Indiana's man facility for the housing and treatment of the mentally ill on the city's west side.

"A lot of people who were getting treatment and getting help are now out on the street and they don't necessarily have the resources that they used to so we do encounter them more," said Officer David Williams who spent three years patrolling Frankfort, Kentucky, and arresting methamphetamine users before taking a job with IMPD. "The first thing you've got to do is find some kind of common ground. You've got to build some sort of rapport. Some way that you can connect with them on a level that they understand because they don't see the world the same way that we do."

Southeast District Patrolman Doug Simmons finds himself acting more as a problem solver than a law enforcement officer on his beat.

"A lot of times you might hear, 'I've done nothing wrong, I don't need you.' 'OK. I'm not here to say you've done anything wrong. Maybe nobody's saying...there's nobody here accusing you of doing anything wrong. I'm here to figure out what is going on.'"

The officers heard from Sonny Ourai, a retired U.S. Army Staff Sergeant who did two tours overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan where he estimates his vehicle convoys were bombed more than a dozen times, leaving him with symptoms of traumatic brain injury.

"You can't do the stuff you want to do and like to do and it takes you longer to do things because your motor skills and memories are there like they used to be," said Ourai.

According to Ourai, officers will want to take note of any decals or license plate frames that denote a motorist's service record as a clue to what can be expected if a driver is aggravated and a conversation opener to find common ground.

Officers were also advised ask about medications or brain injuries, to be less aggressive and more inquisitive, to repeat simple instructions and remove distractions to better focus the person they're trying to help or arrest.

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