Training teaches N.J. officers to better serve those with mental illnesses

    An intensive training course aims to better prepare New Jersey police officers for interactions with people who have mental illnesses.

    On the job, police officers often encounter people in mental health crisis. Street-corner psychology is tricky, and situations can quickly get out of hand. Sometimes, a person suffering mental illness may, in fact, be aggressive. Often, however, the mental health problem may lead to behavior that can easily be misinterpreted as threatening.

    New Jersey Human Services Commissioner Jennifer Velez says officers from 68 municipalities have taken the 40-hour “crisis-intervention team” training course.

    “The training involves understanding what mental illness is, crisis resolution skills, and … what resources are available in the community to be helpful,” she said.

    During the course, officers learn to recognize different mental illnesses and behaviors associated with them. They engage in role-playing to learn how to defuse difficult situations, said Velez.

    “That intervention requires a significant amount of training,” she said. “Role-playing helps considerably to be sure that, in that moment of crisis, there’s an appropriate response to somebody who has a mental illness, who may not understand, in that moment, what is occurring.”

    Velez says the goal is to have crisis-intervention teams available in all New Jersey counties to deal with situations involving those with mental illnesses.

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