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ADMHS Hosts Crisis Training for Law Enforcement

Psychologist Joel Fay is among workshop speakers to give local police a more comprehensive look at mental illness

Dozens of law enforcement officers packed into an auditorium in the Santa Barbara County Public Health building in Santa Barbara this week to hear from Joel Fay, a psychologist with an extensive background in law enforcement.

Fay, who worked as a police officer from 1975 to 2001, went back to graduate school to study psychology. He began the Mental Health Liaison Program for the San Rafael Police Department in an effort to bring county departments together to better serve the mentally ill.

He was just one of a host of speakers featured in this year’s Crisis Intervention Treatment workshop, an intense three-day event held Monday through Wednesday to give law enforcement a comprehensive look at mental illness.

The workshop was sponsored by Santa Barbara County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services, and is an example of what the beleaguered department is doing right.

Fay was just one speaker who provided invaluable insight to what officers are likely to encounter everyday on patrol in Santa Barbara. 

Increasingly, first responders are becoming the first point of contact for people in the midst of a psychiatric emergency. Fay gave some shocking statistics, including one that highlighted the shortage of available treatment for people with serious mental illness.

Fifty years ago, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. Fast forward to 2005, and one psych bed existed for every 3,000 Americans, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.

Fay also spent time talking about suicide among the mentally ill, and how officers can protect others and themselves in a crisis situation.

Suicide by cop accounts for 13 percent of police shootings, Fay said. He ran through a slew of court cases involving suicide by cop scenarios. 

For the courts, he said, killing someone to keep them from killing themselves is not acceptable. When dealing with a disturbed individual, “increasing the use of force may exacerbate the situation,” unlike where increased force is more likely to “bring a dangerous situation to a swift end,” according to case law.

Fay also covered the basics of negotiating with someone when a call for emergency psychiatric help comes in.

The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has established fundamental rules for approaching those calls, the first being that an officer should slow the situation down, and shouldn’t increase the subject’s level of anxiety or assignment. Attempting to develop a rapport is also key, he said, and police should also realize that time is on their side.

One tragic case where officers failed to use those techniques occurred with a young man from Oregon named Lukas Glenn, who was living with his grandparents when he returned home early one morning drunk and angry. He began breaking property and held a knife to his throat, threatening to kill himself.

Fay played the 9-1-1 call between Glenn’s grandmother and the dispatcher, which was fraught with yells from the officers in the background.

“Nowhere in that call do we hear the officers calmly talk to Lukus,” Fay said.

Witnesses said they were shocked how the officers responded, and that Lukus himself even asked officers, “Why are you screaming at me?” just moments before he was shot.

Officers maintain that Glenn was in the process of running toward his home with a knife, and that they shot him to keep him from injuring people inside. Witnesses said Glenn wasn’t trying to flee. Regardless, Fay said, rounds were fired within four minutes of police arriving at the scene.

“The Ninth Circuit Court wanted those officers to say, ‘Lukas, what’s going on? Talk to me,’” he said.

The Crisis Intervention Treatment workshop began as a conference for first responders in Santa Barbara but has expanded countywide. In addition to Santa Barbara police officers, also in attendance were officers from the Lompoc Police Department, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and the county Probation Department.

The program was supported with funding from the Mental Health Services Act, according to Eric Baizer of ADMHS. He said the program saves money in the long run, as well as protecting officers and those with mental illness.

The CIT training has been a yearly tradition since 2004, and Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez said the program is crucial to officer safety as well as those with mental illness. Fay and Sanchez worked on the program while both were working for the San Rafael Police Department.

As police, “we see this all day long,” Sanchez said. “We just want officers to be aware. ... Without the knowledge, it could turn ugly when it doesn’t have to.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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