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Memphis police are pioneers in handling mentally ill

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In what has become a national model, the city of Memphis, Tenn., began its crisis intervention training program 27 years ago after police shot and killed a man with mental illness who charged at them with a knife.

The de-escalation techniques taught to Memphis officers aren’t the typical police response.

Major Vincent Beasley of the Memphis Police Department

BEASLEY: Show compassion to mentally ill people

“For the most part police officers want to react quickly and move fast. But we try to slow everything down, and we want to take time to talk to the person and we want to use our hands more, allowing people to vent, more so than we would with a normal person. But probably the most important thing … is to be compassionate,” Memphis Police Academy commander Major Vincent Beasley said in an interview.

Albuquerque’s police department, in response to a critical U.S. Department of Justice investigation, is under a federal court-ordered deadline to provide crisis intervention training to all its officers, including providing behavioral health training to dispatchers in an effort to deal with crisis situations often involving the mentally ill or people who are suicidal.

A DOJ investigative report, released just a month after the fatal shooting of James Boyd in Albuquerque, concluded the APD engaged in a pattern or practice of excess force in which officers too frequently used deadly force against people who posed a minimal threat.

The DOJ also found that encounters between APD officers and people with mental illness and in crisis too frequently resulted in a use of force or a higher level of force than necessary.

As part of its settlement with the DOJ, the APD will collect and analyze data on crisis intervention to improve its response to these calls.

APD officials didn’t respond to a Journal request for information about their crisis intervention program.

But Beasley, in Memphis, is proud that his agency answered 16,000 crisis intervention calls in 2015.

“We’re transporting very few of these individuals to penal facilities,” he said. “We understand that the behaviors they’re exhibiting have absolutely nothing to do with that person committing a crime. It has to do with a chemical imbalance, whether drug-induced or trauma … even if they’re armed with knives.”

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