Police train to deal with mentally ill

 

Berkshire Eagle 03/17/2012, Page A01

Officers learn how to manage crises with the mentally troubled.

By Andrew Amelinckx

Berkshire Eagle Staff

PITTSFIELD — The Na tional Alliance on Mental Illness of Berkshire County, along with other local organizations and agencies, sponsored its third annual crises intervention training for law enforcement officers this week. The training teaches officers how to handle suspects who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse issues or both.

“I’ll definitely use the information we have learned here in the field,” said Pittsfield Police Officer Jessica Godfroy on Friday. “It was helpful.”

Godfroy and the other attendees listened to speakers from a variety of mental health agencies, families of those who suffer from mental illness and other law enforcement personnel who are versed in crisis intervention and how to “de-escalate” potentially deadly situations.

The weeklong training was held at the Silvio O. Conte Federal Building on Center Street in Pittsfield and included roleplaying exercises that allowed officers put into practice what they had learned in the classroom.

Major Thomas Grady of the Sheriff’s Office, one of the training instructors, said that what the officers learn is another tool they can use to safely gain compliance without force from a suspect.

“It’s shifting the paradigm,” he said.

The program also stresses the importance of getting those “in crisis” the correct services.

“The focus is to not put [the mentally ill] in jail in the first place,” Grady told the class.

Besides Pittsfield, members of the New Marlborough, Williamstown, Adams and Otis Police departments, along with a Williams College safety officer and several members of the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, were in attendance.

While 57 area law enforcement officers have gone through the training in the last three years, there are many in the county who have not, something the organizers hope to change.

“There are a lot more communities we would like to see participate,” said Marilyn Moran, the board president for NAMI-BC.

Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Kelly M. Kemp, another trainer, said they were trying to get as many police officers involved in the training as possible.

“It’s about getting the stakeholders to the table,” she said.

Besides the Alliance, the class is also sponsored by the Berkshire County Sheriff’s Office, the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, Berkshire Community College, the Brien Center for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services and the county Department of Mental Health.

Egremont Police Chief Reena Bucknell called the participating agencies and organizations “the glue” that kept the program going. She, along with NAMI-BC board member Jim Beauregard, helped bring the training to the Berkshires after they participated in a training in Connecticut.

“I can’t say enough good things about this program,” said Bucknell.

On Friday, several guests spoke with the class, including Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler, DA David F. Capeless, Berkshire County state Reps. Paul Mark and Tricia Farley-Bouvier and BCC Vice President William Mulholland.

All the guests praised the training.

“I hope you understand how important this is for you,” Capeless told the attendees, adding that what they learned would enhance their work on a daily basis.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:
aamelinckx@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6249.
On Twitter: @BE_TheAmelinckx