Improving Safety of Mental Health Crisis Calls

Using a Creative Approach to Community Training: Video Production and Performing Arts for Active Engagement
Officer practicing crisis intervention skills
Officer practicing crisis intervention skills
PIERCE COUNTY, Wis. - Aug. 9, 2014 - PRLog -- All law enforcement officers in Pierce County, Wisconsin will be attending an innovative performing arts class on how to de-escalate mental health crisis calls over the next eight months. By learning to verbally de-escalate a crisis, the entire situation is safer for the officers, safer for the person involved and for the community at large.

This is a new class design specifically developed for the challenges of rural law enforcement agencies using the creative power of the arts, the community support of local mental health professionals, mental health advocates, plus community actors for role play scenarios. The class is sponsored by the Pierce County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in St. Croix Valley. Judge Joseph D. Boles, on behalf of the Pierce County CJCC, has recently been nominated for the “Arts in the Community Award”, a distinction for the use of the creative process in addressing civic needs. The award is sponsored by Arts Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin.

About one in four people in the US lives with a mental illness, yet only about one third receive any mental health treatment. America’s jails and prisons have become the institutions of today, housing 10 times more people with a mental illness than mental health treatment centers. When a mental illness reaches the crisis level, and law enforcement is called to the scene, there are specific verbal negotiation strategies that can be used to de-escalate a mental health crisis. These core strategies are used throughout the nation in a multitude of crisis situations, and these same strategies are what officers will be taught: Learning to actively listen to a person, show empathy, build a rapport with them and offer some acceptable options. In this way, the person in crisis is able to be part of the decision making process as often as possible.

Crisis Intervention Team training (CIT©) has become the “best practice” for officers to de-escalate a mental health crisis and create a community wide resource. The training to certify officers and build a specialized team, however, is a time consuming and expensive proposition and was originally developed for large cities. The certified CIT class is 40 hours in length and not feasible or financially economical for many rural communities. The mission of local Wisconsin Criminal Justice Councils is to collaborate with key decision makers to make the best and most economical justice decisions for a county. The Pierce County CJCC made a commitment to send all county officers to a shortened, four hour training class, if one could be developed.

To get the most out of those four hours, an engaging and interactive class was designed using the principles of mindfulness: focusing the attention on the core principles of de-escalation and using a variety of creative and artistic approaches to teach the basic steps. To do this a community collaboration is essential. This collaboration includes mental health professionals, local NAMI affiliates, a CIT trained officer, mental health consumers and local community actors who receive specialized mental health training. Alongside the presentation, officers have a published visual arts manual that uses color and artistic presentation, plus a photo montage to make the information visually appealing. Two locally produced videos show officers why and how to use the de-escalation steps and offer a concrete example of the steps in action. This use of the media arts allows for music, performing arts and storytelling to combine into a creative learning experience. Local law enforcement and local actors participated in the videos.

A significant part of the class is the use of specially trained actors. During class lectures, actors pop up from the audience and perform a monologue to show behavior in action. Never knowing when that will happen adds suspense and surprise to the class. The same actors participate later in actual role-play scenarios so officers can practice what they learned.  Classes are held once a month, until all officers are trained.

Every new program needs to be independently evaluated, for content, actual skill learning and quantitative results. In Spring of 2015, senior students from the University of Wisconsin/River Falls Experiential Learning class will conduct an in-depth evaluation of the class to determine its effectiveness. Students will give a presentation and final report to the CJCC and NAMI Board members in April of 2015.

Funding for the class was provided through generous local grants and donations from agencies which will benefit from the improved interaction between the police and people in crisis.

Linda Flanders @

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Tags:Mental Health, Nami, Arts And Education
Industry:Arts, Government, Health
Location:Pierce County - Wisconsin - United States
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