BURLINGTON, N.C. — Witnessing a person holding a weapon while having a mental health crisis is enough to make most people’s adrenaline skyrocket, even police.
That’s where something called de-escalation training comes in.
Every officer in the Burlington Police Department participates in monthly training to practice handling mental health calls. They’ve been doing this for about six years and say the outcomes speak for themselves.
“This is what our community has said that they have wanted,” said Lieutenant Shelly Katkowski with the Burlington Police Department.
Lt. Katkowski teaches Burlington officers how to de-escalate mental health crisis situations, something the department has been doing since Ferguson.
“This person, a lot of times isn’t even committing a crime, but we end up there. We get called there. It’s important getting trained in recognizing that maybe this behavior isn’t necessarily violent behavior or someone that’s committing a crime but someone who needs help rather than dealt with in a criminal nature,” Lt. Katkowski explained, “we’re the first ones there at 3 in the morning on a Tuesday night. We’re the ones getting called when a lot of times the family, the community member, a neighbor, they’re scared, and they want help, and they’re calling us, and a lot of times it’s connecting that person to some type of resource.”
A response must be practiced and refined at a time when officers have come under public scrutiny after the shootings of Jacob Blake and Walter Wallace Jr.
“It’s a skill, so if you train in that skill, you practice that skill. When you get there, you’ve seen it. You’ve done it. You know…reality based training is really important because it’s preparing officers for those moments, and its not the first time that they see it,” Lt. Katkowski stated.
Lt. Katkowski tells FOX8 the goal isn’t to provide counsel.
“No. We’re not counselors, and we’re not psychiatrists or psychologists, and we’re not mental health experts. Our job is really to go there, diffuse the situation, make the scene safe and get the experts on scene,” Lt. Katkowski said.
More times than not, those suffering from mental illness just want to be heard.
“A lot of times these situations that we see, it’s the first time in a long that time that person in crisis has probably had anybody listen to them,” Lt. Katkowski explained.
Many times, they’ll get multiple calls to one address and they’ll see the same person again.
“With these people that have severe mental illness, substance abuse issues, a lot of times it’s all those things together. We’re going to go back, and that person realizes that we’re there to help, and we don’t want to hurt them,” Lt. Katkowski concluded.
It’s a relationship built on trust and understanding.
To continue building that relationship with the community, the Burlington Police Department has partnered with the city council and the city manager to form a Community Police Advisory Team.
The group would be made up of civilians who would come up with ways to improve the city.
The council will vote on the organization Nov. 3.
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