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Sunday, April 25, 2010

EDITORIAL: Talk, not action

April 23, 2010
Salt Lake Tribune

Standing along State Route 59, dealing with a delirious man who ignored his every order, Hurricane police officer Ken Thompson relied on his training. Trouble was, he didn't have the right training. And within minutes, 32-year-old Brian Cardall, a promising research scientist who was suffering a mental health episode, lay dead.

Crisis Intervention Team training is considered the national standard for teaching law enforcement officers to deal effectively with the mentally ill. The program emphasizes an empathetic approach, scenario-based training, site visits to mental health facilities, interaction with mental health patients and instruction from mental health professionals. Officers are taught to identify characteristics of mental disorders and utilize de-escalation tactics and techniques to provide a safer intervention. In Utah, the week-long training program is conducted by the Salt Lake City Police Department, and graduates are certified by the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

Despite the proven effectiveness of the program -- injuries and deaths are reduced, clients are less likely to repeat offenses and more likely to see the inside of a treatment clinic than a jail cell -- only 11 percent of Utah law enforcement officers are certified. Hurricane officers have now taken the course, belatedly. And the Cardall incident has become the poster case for acquiring this essential training.

It was clear, by his behavior as well as information provided to police by his wife, that Cardall, who was bipolar, was experiencing a mental health episode. He was naked. He had been attempting to direct traffic on the road. And he refused Thompson's loud and repeated orders to "get down on the ground."

Then, just 42 seconds after arriving on the scene, Thompson shocked the unarmed Cardall with a Taser, twice. An autopsy determined that the stun gun caused or contributed to the death. But investigators found that Thompson adhered to both his department's use-of-force policy and Utah law, and no charges were filed.

Still, it's clear to all involved that this situation, and similar situations, call for a lot more talk and a lot less action. And now there's evidence to back up that contention.

Researchers writing for Schizophrenia Bulletin , a medical journal, have unveiled a study that proves what CIT advocates already knew. The training works. Officers who are CIT-certified are less likely to use counterproductive force when dealing with individuals with mental health issues.

For police chiefs and municipal governments, the course should be clear. A CIT training course and biennial refresher courses should be mandated for all of their officers.

1 comment:

Excited-Delirium.com said...

Taser International, if they were honestly interested in "saving lives", would be screaming from the roof tops about this alternative approach to dealing with such incidents (CIT instead of mindless tasering). The fact that they market the opposite, more lethal, more dangerous, less effective, approach should make them liable. At thd very least it reveals their true nature in a way that is obvious to anyone.

It's nice to see the obvious truth about de-escalation techniques being more widely accepted.