Burlington police officers complete training to better address mental health crises: ‘No situation is going to be the same’

Piedmont Triad News

BURLINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — All officers with the Burlington Police Department have completed an eight-hour course to better serve people experiencing a mental health crisis, called Mental Health First Aid.

“We recognize that just like physical first aid does not make you a brain surgeon or a cardiologist, Mental Health First Aid is not going to allow you to treat and diagnose and prescribe medications, but it’s the initial first assessment and involvement to get additional resources,” said Sgt. Michael Giroux, who led the training course.

There were lectures and discussions focused on the prevalence of mental health issues, and how to deescalate people in crisis.

Giroux said about one in five people are suffering from a mental illness or disorder, and about a third of people will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.

Officer William Ferguson said nationally, about a quarter of deadly use of force cases involved someone experiencing a mental health issue.

Ferguson said he responds to two calls daily related to mental health.

“No situation is going to be the same so someone could be fearful and they’re crying, or someone could be fearful and they’re aggressive and fighting so it’s the same underlying issues but they present differently,” he said.

The training gives officers more time to call in a crisis or youth crisis counselor.

“They have a computer, they have the radio, they listen to calls and can come out and perform a more in-depth assessment they have connections to other resources,” Ferguson said.

Giroux explained those personnel can provide a more thorough assessment and evaluation, and refer people to the resources they may need moving forward.

“Recognize that if we invest the time and effort upfront, we may not encounter them as often in crisis moving forward,” he said.

The department’s counselors work with Cardinal Innovations Healthcare and RHA Health Services in Burlington to provide more long-term care.

After the eight-hour course, some officers, like those in SWAT, take a more intense 40-hour crisis intervention team training.

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