Critical Intervention Team educates officers about dramatic scenarios
The police officer stands a distance away from the man holding a knife to his wrist. The man threatens to kill himself if the officer gets any closer.
“We can get through this,” the officer says to the man.
“Who the fuck is we?” the man replies. “After 5 o’clock, your ass is out of here. This is my life.”
The training officer stops the role-play and asks the officer what she thinks she did wrong. Role-plays, such as this one, will happen all week long at the Boulder Police Department as part of the Critical Intervention Team training course police officers take to improve their ability to handle dramatic and tense scenarios.
“It helps them to identify that a person potentially has a mental illness and how to communicate to that person,” said Scot Williams, a Boulder County Sheriff’s office sergeant. “They learn to be more empathetic when they need to be; be more of a command presence – an authority – when they need to be; and also be more specific with asking questions with a person who might be schizophrenic or something like that.”
The officers undergoing the training listened to specialists from different fields including psychology, medicine and psychiatry. They studied the symptoms of certain disorders and how to react to people in the capacity of a police officer. After looking at the theory, the officers participated in role-playing to learn how to deal with people who are depressed, psychotic or using illegal substances. The officers learned how to be subtle in their approach.
“They want to solve the problem right away without taking the time to find out what is going on,” Williams said. “We have a term called baby steps.”
Williams gave an example.
“We have a person on a balcony,” Williams said. “What would be your ultimate goal? To get him off the balcony. A lot of people would just say, ‘Would you just come in off the balcony?’ Well, that’s a huge step. They should say, ‘Can I just get you to just put your leg over the railing.'”
Williams also said the role players use a “sting and reward” system. A sting is a negative response from an actor playing the part of suicidal person. This can be curses, threats or silence.
“Based on the way an officer interacts with us, we’ll throw hooks out there to try to get them to ask appropriate questions,” said Angela Blake, a site coordinator for the Crisis Company. “Things like saying, ‘It’s OK’ is not OK when you’re in a crisis. So we’ll sting them in a various number of ways. The rewards come about by giving them information, complying with their requests, eye contact and de-escalating.”
CUPD officers participate in the program because these situations occur on campus, just like any other place, according to CUPD Training Sgt. Mark Heyart.
“What we do see in the population – 18- to 25-year-old population – is that it’s the first time away from home,” Heyart said. “It’s also that time period in their lives where they’re going through a lot of physiological changes. Sometimes, that’s about the time period that mental illness factors that are hereditary come up. So things the person has never dealt with start to show in that time period, and that coincides with their time in college.”
Heyart said CU police officers see a lot of depressed people, people who self-medicate with drugs and people with emotional problems. Residence Hall advisers, friends and roommates often call the police when they see these people having problems.
“The other side for CU-Boulder police that we see is we get many times called in from RAs and family friends to do welfare checks. So the officers come into those situations, as in any situation, not knowing what is occurring. With this training, the idea is that with all police officers, whether they are working for the university, the county or in the city, they will have some extra tools to recognize problems.”