WICHITA, Kansas (KSN) – Studies show that nearly one in five Americans suffer from some form of mental illness. And, when you consider each day police officers encounter dozens of people while on duty, it’s easy to see mental health training for them is a necessity.
One officer who KSN spoke with said on average, he probably responds to about 10 to 15 calls per day. Of those calls, he said about a third usually involve some form of mental illness. That alone points out the importance of training officers in how to communicate with people in any situation.
That’s why in 2015 the Wichita Police Department decided to make a mental health first-aid training program mandatory for all commissioned officers.
“If they have to have treatment, if they have to, if they have to go to court, they get arrested, they might be locked up for a little bit and lose their benefits, and then they go into even a further crisis and depression, all that stuff spirals and snowballs on itself,” said Wichita Police Sgt. John Ryan.
Ryan says it’s to everyone’s benefit if officers can help individuals get the resources they need. That way, he says they can help repeat mental-illness-related calls from escalating in the future.
“The more times officers can be on the street making calls, protecting the community,” Ryan said.
Captain Brent Allred commands the Wichita Police Department’s section of the joint Wichita-Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center.
“No one ever hears about those situations where they result peacefully and everybody goes home and they get help,” Allred said. “No one hears about those. Hundreds of those, every day that we deal with that, no one ever hears about. It’s the ones that unfortunately turn violent or something happens that you hear about.”
Allred says by the end of this year about 600 commissioned officers will have taken the day-long mental health first-aid training course.
“We talk about what is mental health?” said Allred. “What is a mental health crisis? How to recognize somebody that’s in a mental health crisis. What resources are out there for someone in a crisis situation?”
The Wichita Police Department says it encourages anyone who wants to see what police see on a regular basis to contact their substation and request to take a ride-along.