Written by Ellis Pines – October 1, 2020

The third in a series of blogs on the current police training crisis

Expanding scenarios to meet today’s mental health challenges

“De-escalation is seen as having special relevance to mental health-related calls for service. Many such calls are essentially disorder situations, where the person is not a danger to anyone else or even himself or herself. De-escalation allows officers to engage in tactical decision-making, which includes keeping some distance from the person and thereby buying time to reassess the situation, consider alternatives to resolving the situation (especially without using force), and in many cases call in support from the department’s crisis intervention team officers or possibly social service professionals.”

– Samuel E. Walker and Carol A. Archbold, The New World of Police Accountability, SAGE Publications: 2020.

The previous two blogs have shown how scenario-based simulation training can prepare law enforcement officers for unexpected eventualities. Section 4 of the White House’s June 16 executive order explicitly addresses an increasingly common situation: police encounters with mentally ill, homeless and addicted populations: “The Attorney General shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services as appropriate, identify and develop opportunities to train law enforcement officers with respect to encounters with individuals suffering from impaired mental health, homelessness and addiction.”

The order not only addresses the present crisis, but a situation the White House notes has been brewing for decades. According to a December 2015 study by the Treatment Advocacy Center, individuals with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement. Numbering fewer than 1 in 50 U.S. adults, individuals with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least 1 in 4 and as many as half of all fatal police shootings.1

Simulation resources to bear on this difficult issue in three ways:

  1. Scenarios geared to interactions with a person in crisis (PIC). Agencies have already been using PIC scenarios, based on legal conclusions, for encounters with a person in crisis. For example, InVeris continues to add PIC cases to its library of scenarios. As with all of the InVeris scenarios, branching based on decisions leads to different outcomes.
  2. Realistic simulation system and weapons. As mentioned in the previous blog, the greater the realism, the more effective the training. InVeris believes its five-screen, 300-degree FATS® 300LE advanced simulation system with BlueFire® wireless weapons provides the immersive realism necessary for optimal PIC training. Five screens focus the trainee on the situation, so they experience the full gravity of their judgment calls. The BlueFire® weaponry closely approximate form, fit and function of the officer’s duty weapons. Meanwhile, all actions are recorded so the trainer can go over each lesson a complete learning opportunity. In 2019, the Georgia Public Safety Training Center (GPSTC) selected this system for statewide training.
  3. Learning from mental health professionals. To make sure that scenarios answer community health care, as well as law enforcement needs, training companies and agencies must listen to Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) experts, who explain how to distinguish usual from atypical behavior along with appropriate actions. Increasingly, law enforcement officers are receiving CIT training, which also helps them understand the suspect’s experience.

The White House’s recent executive order, along with pending congressional bills, has brought the value of scenario training, especially with the CIT population, to national attention. InVeris looks forward to working with agencies on implementing these critical steps for community and officer safety.