MENTAL HEALTH

Report: NYPD mental health training needs better utilization

 (2013 Getty Images)

The New York Police Department has trained more than 5,000 police officers on how to handle mental health crisis calls but doesn't have a way to dispatch those officers when the calls come in, according to a report published Thursday.

Officers in the nation's largest police department handle about 400 mental crisis calls a day. The four-day training program for officers, which began in the summer of 2015, was built off a nationally recognized instructional model, called Crisis Intervention Training, that uses patients, professionals and police officials to train officers on how to recognize signs of mental illness, respond to such calls and empathize with someone in the throes of a crisis.

The department — made up of 35,000 officers — already had a small, highly trained unit for mental health cases, but this training was meant to give more police a better chance at de-escalating crisis situations.

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City officials praised the training program but said the department must do a better job of implementing it.

The department's dispatch system is unable to identify the officers who have undergone the training, so it's "random chance" on whether an officer who arrives at the scene has been trained in how to handle it, according to the report completed by the Office of the Inspector General for the NYPD.

The department hasn't updated its policies to align with the training and lacks dedicated personnel to coordinate the effort, the report said. It also doesn't effectively collect or analyze data from the incidents in an effective way, the report said.

Police officials said they are working to make trained officers more available. Right now, supervisors are given a list of trained officers so they can direct them to specific calls, they said.

"The NYPD is continuously working to provide our officers with the best training and equipment in order to effectively deal with the wide variety of situations they may encounter," it said in a statement.

Crisis Intervention Training emerged in the late 1980s from the Memphis Police Department and is now used by nearly 3,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. Research has shown its use is associated with higher confidence among officers, better recognition of mental illness and fewer uses of force.

But the training isn't a panacea. In October, a sergeant who went through the program fatally shot 66-year-old Deborah Danner, who had schizophrenia, in her Bronx apartment. Sgt. Hugh Barry persuaded Danner to drop a pair of scissors she had been holding, but when she picked up the bat and tried to strike him, he fired two shots that hit her torso, police said.