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Extra Crisis Training Helps Police

Police response to crisis calls.

The number of crisis calls that our police officers respond to is on the increase. There was a time not that long ago that an officer having to deal with a person in crisis was a once in a while type of call. More recently that has changed. I have spoken to many cops from Monmouth and Ocean counties and they all tell me about the almost daily response their agency has to make to a person in crisis, sometimes several of these calls a day.

These crisis take many forms: a suicidal person, a person who is suffering from mental illness, a very intoxicated and depressed person, domestic violence incidents gone bad, family problems and young people having trouble coping.

In any event, these are dangerous calls for our officers to respond to. When dealing with people a police officer has to always keep in mind that we don’t always know what’s going on in their lives or in their heads. We have to keep on guard for warning signs or signals given out by the people in crisis. We may be called to a home because of a disturbance and when we get there we find out that there is someone locked in a bedroom with a weapon threatening to hurt themselves.

How an officer deals with this type of situation depends on many factors, including the type of training and experience they have with crisis situations. Most police agencies provide some type of training for their officers, but it is not always adequate.

I recently read an article about the San Francisco police department in California. The chief of the department was trying to come up with a way to deal with the 30 crisis calls per day his officers have to deal with. What they had done to try to help the street cops was to send several officers at a time to a training program in New Mexico at a cost of about $4,000 per officer. This was cost prohibitive and difficult to get all the offices to the training.

The other problem he saw was that because those officers that received the training were not specifically sent to crisis calls, the skills they had acquired were only being used sporadically. It wasn’t until the officers shot someone that they focused their attention on the problem and increased the attention they give to dealing with these types of calls.

This situation in San Francisco is common all over the country. Agencies are trying to cope with the increasing number of problems people are experiencing and how the police deal with them.

Some towns in our area have really good programs in place to provide a cooperative response to people in crisis. They consist of their Human Service professionals, counselors trained to help people in crisis, in conjunction with the police to address these problems. Some of the hospitals provide mobile response screeners that come out to people’s homes to give on scene evaluation of the crisis and help the police to resolve the situation.

These are good, pro-active steps forward for communities that are called on to provide services to their citizens in need. By working together we can help the members of our towns who need the help and at the same time help our officers as they cope with the growing number of crisis calls they handle.

Having been on many of these calls over the years I can tell you they are not easy to handle. I have received specialized training and acted as a negotiator on numerous occasions. Every situation is different and presents its own set of facts, challenges and possible solutions. One common key factor I have found in these calls for service is that the actions of the first officer on scene can shape an incident and its outcome.

An officer that begins a dialogue with the person in crisis in a calm, non- threatening manner can create a life line to the person in crisis as well as setting the stage for a positive resolution. The officer that takes a more rigid, “do it because I say so” approach can escalate a situation from difficult to dangerous. So the training our people receive is very important for them and the people they serve.

Last year I met an officer from Fredericksburg, VA. He told me a story about a young police officer that went to a crisis call involving a man and his wife having a heated domestic dispute. When the police arrived, the man, who was also intoxicated, took his two young children hostage. The officer, who had not received the extra training in how to communicate with someone in a crisis situation, tried to resolve the situation as best as he could. He asked the man to come out. When he refused, the officer tried to get the man to respond and give up by telling him how much trouble he was in and that he would be going to jail. The man shot his two kids and himself.

This was a tragedy for the man, his children, his wife and their entire family. It was also a huge tragedy for the officer who was simply trying to resolve a very tense and difficult situation using the limited training and experience he had. No one involved in this case will ever be the same.

I was moved by this story and realized the magnitude of the problem. These calls are on the increase. We must work toward a better way to helping people in crisis, and we must provide our officers with all the tools they need to do their jobs. If you are or someone in your family is in crisis there is help available. Call your local hospital, human services office or the police for guidance.

If you have any questions about crisis training send me an email: jpangaro@yahoo.com

Let me know what you think.                     

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

WMS826 February 12, 2013 at 01:53 PM
We cannot afford to make our police officers experts in all fields and areas. Each police officer cannot be a qualified hostage negotiator nor should he have to be. Private companies would love to see this as they would stand to make a lot of money providing this training which is how these ideas are planted and take root. A private company lobbys for this and then gets to some politician who mandates its in some feel good liberal bill. The reality of the matter is that things have gotten too out of control in this area. If a lone guman is in a building why are we negotiating with him to begin with. Give him a chance to surrender, then send in tear gas, then the swat team. No need for a drawn out 24 hour process in which we provide them Pizzas and helicopters. We do need SWAT teams given the amount of active shooter scenarios out there these days, but we also need to be more aggressive with them to end these situations sooner. Remember, it is only a "Stand Off" as long as we stand outside waiting for him.
Robert Yates February 12, 2013 at 04:34 PM
While I sympathize with the suggestions made in your 1st and 2nd paragraphs, I do not think your suggestions in the 3rd and 4th paragraph are very practical, nor conducive to saving lives. We would have a great deal of dead hostages if we simply sent in a SWAT team (in a blaze of glory) every time there was a standoff. Certainly some officers should be trained in hostage negotiations skills. Citizens do however go too far in terms of what they call 911 for. People who are intoxicated or depressed or who are having difficulty coping should not be calling 911. They should be going to the doctor. Unless there is a danger that someone is going to hurt someone else, hence committing a crime, it is probably best that the police decline these service requests as they are outside the function of a police officer.
WMS826 February 12, 2013 at 07:42 PM
Robert..please read thoroughly before responding...I said lone gunman..not one with hostages. As far as making our cops crisis qualified, thats what ambulances and trips to the psych unit are for. The problem is they let them out too easily. If you alone hole up in your house and hold the cops at bay, it's game on. Gas the house and then move in. Why should the entire neighborhood be evacuated for hours or days while they try to talk you out. And who cares if the gunman gets whacked, he'd only go nuts later on down the road again anyway. Look at that cop in Piscataway that did this a year back.
Robert Yates February 12, 2013 at 08:22 PM
My apologies; I did overlook the lone gunman reference. I think we agree that most of this stuff is outside the scope of what police officers should be expected to do, but a human being is a human being. I do not think I could support preemptive measures likely to result in a bad ending if it can be avoided. Obviously, costs should remain reasonable, but preemption is always a dangerous moral road to take. Remember, making a threat (and that is all these people are usually guilty of at the time) is only simple assault.
WMS826 February 12, 2013 at 11:15 PM
So where does the line get drawn..how long before we move in on the lone nut barricaded in his house. I say the less nuts we have the better after everything we've just had go on with shootings.
Forked River Piney February 13, 2013 at 01:14 AM
There is plenty of money first why do we need 5 Ocean County Freeloaders? why do we need 13 Commissioners at the OCUA? Why 5 Tc member? Lets cut Congress pay and benefits How about Cutting all Foreign Aid? How about cutting the military budget? Do we really need the LMUA
WMS826 February 13, 2013 at 04:13 AM
You are a piney with that response.
KC February 13, 2013 at 04:43 AM
Robert, I don't think it is a coincidence that we are having so many of these cases erupt while the country is in financial crisis. It is my educated guess that many of these crises are in part due to a lack of financial resources ie, a real or percieved inability of those in crisis to access psychiatric or counseling services. The police intercede where parenting, education, community, medicine and a job market have failed. I think the professional development classes are a wonderful idea. Nothing is fool proof, but training can help for those who enter it with an opened mind. I agree that sadly, there are situations where a more military action is probably appropriate. To weigh a situation appropriately is what I think makes a professional a professional.
Brick Resident 2 February 19, 2013 at 03:21 AM
You know it is a thankless job and we can never forget the stress put on our officers and their families. The point here is do we provide enough training for our police officers? We spend like crazy on parks that bear our politicians names in bronze. Should we not afford to train the people who are there when we are in need? Those who bear the burden of stress like no other?
WMS826 February 20, 2013 at 12:42 AM
I think six months in the police academy ought to cover it to start with. Then time and experience kick in from there. All cops need to do is keep the peace until they can get the distressed to a mental health facility. Period. Would you prefer that our cops spend time counseling people or patrolling for burglars and drug addicts.
Tom Cular February 21, 2013 at 01:27 AM
I don't believe that every policeman needs to have specialized crisis training, sure a cop without the training may be a first responder, but that's one of the reasons they have superior officers. A quick call should have a superior on site within minutes.
Great Job Gt February 21, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Tom, if u are not a policeman don't comment. Keep your day job.
Brick Resident 2 February 21, 2013 at 03:12 AM
Does six months cover active shooter training and the current methods being used? Domestic violence when there is a gun being used and kids in the house? How to handle interrogation, hostage negotiation, firearms training, hidden compartment searches, changes in the laws, search and seizure, current drug trends... I can go on but these issues and more are part of Brick Township should you know it or not. I only question if our officers have the budget to be continually trained properly while we spend on projects like traders cove that competes with the local businesses in town and is costing taxpayers millions. We have had some status in the past in regard to being a safe town and for a fraction of the reckless spending we are engaged in this resident thinks training of our finest should be a top priority.
Tugwalla February 21, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Yes only police can have opinions concerning public safety...
Tom Cular February 21, 2013 at 04:38 AM
I'm not a policeman, but for the salary you're paid you should be thoroughly trained and have some experience other than directing traffic at ShopRite. Any time you want to tell me to be quiet because I'm not a policeman, remember this. Taxpayers pay your salary and benefits for you and your family and you and your brethren are subject to public comment. Cops in some areas have a tough job for sure, but you're not a deity or a censor.
jerseytomato February 21, 2013 at 12:37 PM
"Those who bear the burden of stress like no other...' Seriously? Cops through out most of this state have it pretty good, in comparison to Camden, NY, Philly, Detroit, Dallas, LA., etc. The so called 'stress' you refer to isn't exclusive of police - our active duty men and women that serve in the US Armed Forces have stress levels like no others. Great job GT - are you the self appointed site moderator? Check your people skills, pal.
WMS826 February 21, 2013 at 12:55 PM
Let's pull the band aid off here and do a search for Pangaro Associates and you will see that this man who wrote the article makes money by having tax payers pay him to give this training. Then go back to my original post up top and read between the lines.

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