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Police officers trained to de-escalate situations with the mentally ill

Police officers trained to de-escalate situations with the mentally ill
Closing ceremony held at the Old Montrose Police Lecture Hall

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Eighty-eight police officers and 79 recruits now have enhanced skills in de-escalating situations involving mentally ill persons.

The police officers received their certificates of participation on April 30, while the recruits were trained in an earlier session. Both sets of training were conducted by professionals in the Department of Mental Health in the Ministry of Health and the Environment.

In delivering brief remarks at the closing ceremony, which was held at the Old Montrose Police Lecture Hall, Sister Elizabeth Medford said the training is a significant step forward in the reintegration of mental health into primary health care.

She articulated that police officers are now more knowledgeable, competent, confident and certified in the delivery of effective and efficient care to mentally ill patients. Sister Medford further stated that the police, who are first in line to being called upon many times in the community, now have the skills and knowledge that they need to de-escalate challenging situations, keeping the patients safe and also preventing injury to themselves.

According to Sister Medford, going forward, the Mental Health Department will continue to collaborate with the police for a smooth transition of the integration process. She congratulated all the officers who have completed the training and told them that they are making a difference in the eradication of the stigma that is attach to the mentally ill patients; and for helping to chart new dimensions for improvement in the quality of care for the mentally ill patients.

Sister Medford disclosed that because of the work being done by the Mental Health Department, the institution has made it into the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Magazine with respect to the department’s work in the reintegration into primary care of mental health and her department is leading in the Caribbean in this area.

Sister Medford extended special thanks to Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, the staff of the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre and Commissioner of Police Colin John whose combined effort she said made the training possible.

Speaking at the ceremony, Commissioner of Police Colin John, thanked Sister Medford and her staff for the initiative to have Police Officers trained in the area of handling mentally ill persons. The Commissioner said that mental health illness is just another serious illness. In qualifying this statement, the Commissioner echoed singer/song writer Demi Lovato who said “I wish that people could understand that the brain is the most important organ of the body. Just because you cannot see mental illness like you can see a broken bone does not mean that it is not as detrimental or devastating to a family or an individual.”

He said the fact that we cannot see mental illness is more devastating and with that in mind the officers have the necessary training and skills to deal with mentally ill persons. John informed the gathering that in his capacity as Commissioner of Police, many questions are thrown at him by Police Officers about how they are supposed to deal with mentally ill persons, when they are not trained to deal with them. The Commissioner said he told the officers to consider dealing with mentally ill persons as part of preventative policing.

He stressed that if the police fail to act on an initial report, they may be forced to act on a more serious report which can result in fatal or severe injuries; which would make the police work more strenuous if the situation is not dealt with in a timely manner.

The Commissioner said the training was one of necessity and is an important tool in the police crime prevention kit. He concluded his remarks by saying that he hoped the officers have grasped the knowledge imparted to them and that it will derive practical benefits in the execution of their duty.

In giving a review of the training, Sgt. 281 Egbert Winston Maloney, one of the participants stated that the training was very timely and executed properly. He said it is common practice for police officers to have encounters with mentally challenged persons at some point in their daily duties.

According to him, based on the actions or response of the police officer, the situation can either be de-escalated or escalated. He expressed confidence that the officers who were trained would be better equipped to deal with mentally ill persons because they are more informed about some of the methods to employ when dealing with them.(API)

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