Aurora Police work to improve statistics on dealing with suspects with disabilities

Posted at 5:13 PM, Sep 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-29 20:54:15-04

AURORA, Colo. – Officers in Aurora will be more prepared the next time they face a situation involving a despondent person, or a person with a mental disability. 

Aurora PD and the Aurora Mental Health Center have started their own Crisis Intervention Training course.

It’s designed to help officers better handle all encounters, but especially those involving individuals dealing with mental issues.

“None of us are trained clinicians,” said Sgt. John Wilton, the training coordinator. “We’re not doctors. We’re not capable of diagnosing anything.”

But Wilton said officers can be trained to “de-escalate” a situation and then call in the experts.

“We’re not teaching officers how to talk to people.  We’re teaching them how to listen,” he said.

Statistics across the U.S. are startling, including one from the Rudeman Family Foundation, which says up to 50 percent of all fatal police shootings in the U.S. end with the death of a person with a disability.

Another study, by the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, says at least one in four fatal police encounters ends the life of a person with a severe mental illness.

The week-long training course involves actors portraying a variety of people that police may come into contact with.

One portrayed a despondent driver who refused to get out of her car.

She mumbled that she wanted to activate her air bag so she “could blast off into space.”

Police tried to calm her down and get information so they could put her in contact with the appropriate agency that could help.

“This training gives [officers] the tools they need so they can be ready to handle any situation,” said Heather Dolan, of the Aurora Mental Health Center.

Dolan said those situations could range from a person who had a bad day at work and was then involved in a traffic mishap to one dealing with psychosis.

Wilton told Denver7 that APD has sent a few officers to similar training events hosted by the Arapahoe or Adams County Sheriff’s Offices.

He said now that Aurora has its own program, they can better train all patrol officers how to handle crisis situations.

“If a person does have a severe mental illness,” Dolan said, “we always say, if there is a situation where an officer needs to be brought out, ask dispatch for a CIT (Crisis Intervention Trained) Officer.  They know how to work with individuals the right way.  They’ve undergone 40 hours of training -- intense, in-depth, soul-searching training that gets them ready for dealing with any situation.”

Wilton says their goal is to make every encounter safe for the individuals involved and for the officer.

He said they hope to have three training courses a year.

“The overall goal,” he said, “is to provide the best service to the community.”


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