Rio Rancho’s police chief is taking a page out of Albuquerque’s playbook and beginning to train each of the city’s police officers in crisis intervention and de-escalation techniques, part of an effort to ensure the city is equipped to deal with mentally ill and potentially violent suspects whenever officers encounter them.
Police Chief Michael Geier, who has been at the helm of RRPD for four months, said the initiative is only beginning and fewer than 10 officers have received the full training so far.
The goal is to certify each of the department’s 128 current officers, but the department is focusing first on the 70 field officers patrolling the streets.
He said requiring the training for all officers is a way to keep on top of current trends in law enforcement and he sees it as inevitable that, as Rio Rancho continues to grow, it will encounter the same issues as Albuquerque and other cities face.
“The city has experienced a lot of growth. As the city grows and brings in more people … we experience those same trends,” Geier said Thursday in an interview at the police department headquarters. “… The key is staying on top of current issues.”
Albuquerque’s police department academy includes at least 125 hours of crisis intervention training for aspiring police officers and current officers are also being pulled off the streets in turns to become certified in crisis intervention.
In early April, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry announced a new requirement that each of APD’s approximately 1,100 officers get the training in anticipation of findings from the federal Department of Justice, which came to the city to implement a plan to prevent what it called excessive force by officers and unnecessary police shootings.
Albuquerque police have shot and killed 27 people since 2010, and are in the midst of negotiations with the DOJ to overhaul their training, hiring and disciplinary systems.
Geier, a former APD commander, said he knows that officers poorly trained for dealing with mentally ill people can result in distrust among the community and that’s the last thing he wants as police chief.
He also said training that focuses on slowing down potentially volatile situations, controlling scenes and preventing subjects from feeling like “trapped animals” can result in fewer officers using force. For his part, however, he said he’s received only compliments on the restraint his Rio Rancho officers have shown unruly suspects.
“I didn’t always hear that in Albuquerque,” he said.
Geier also said the training will serve another purpose: Mental health referrals and crisis intervention can prevent violent crime that might result from untreated mental illnesses or conflicts that were allowed to fester. As the city continues to grow, he said, crime prevention is key.
“With the growth of the community, it’s like plugging a dam,” he said. “A little leak can be a big problem.”