Law enforcement officers from around the state are in Kennewick this week learning how to deal with mentally ill people in crisis situations.
More than 40 people from 15 different agencies, a majority of which are law enforcement, are attending the ninth annual crisis intervention training hosted by the Kennewick Police Department.
All of the police agencies and both sheriff’s offices in Benton and Franklin counties are participating.
The group is being trained by area mental health professionals on different services available, participating in real-life crisis scenarios and meeting with people who battle mental illness to better understand their diseases, said Linda Robb, director of the department of human services for Benton and Franklin counties.
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“They all very much want to learn how to deal with mentally ill folks and how to do that safely and appropriately,” she said.
There has been a focus during this year’s training on dealing with mentally ill people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Robb said.
There has been debate on how police should handle people in crisis for some time, though the issue has come to light locally with recent high profile cases.
In July, a paranoid schizophrenic man named Brad Jensen, 34, was shot to death by two Pasco police officers when police say he came at them with knives. Jensen had alcohol and methamphetamine in his system.
Another case in July involved a Pasco man, Rick Howard, 49, who fired at least 60 rounds in his neighborhood while under the influence and suffering a mental breakdown, authorities said.
And the training comes on the heels of the shooting of Antonio Zambrano-Montes, 35, who was killed by Pasco police after he allegedly threw rocks at officers. His family has said he battled depression.
Robb is seeing more of a trend locally by police to include mental health professionals in crisis situations, whether calling them to a scene or making them available after an arrest, she said.
“Mental illness is coming more and more to the forefront,” she said. “Every week there seems to be and incident in national news or local. Awareness is heightened.”