SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – San Francisco police will be trained in crisis intervention techniques to improve how officers interact with mentally ill suspects, the Police Commission said Wednesday.

Public pressure to change how police handle stops of suspects with mental illness has mounted steadily after three mentally ill men were killed by police in just over a year.

“The number of mental health issues that this city is faced with, and what our officers have to deal with on a daily basis is disproportionate to other cities,” said Police Commissioner Thomas Mazzucco.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

The program adopted unanimously by the seven-member Police Commission on Wednesday will teach officers how to act as first responders or co-responders to mental health calls.

It follows a widely respected model used by police in Memphis, Tennessee that one expert said has dramatically reduced fatal officer-involved shootings in that city.

“We were looking at a rate of one to two per year. We’re looking at a rate of two to three, we’re not sure exactly whether it’s two or three, within the last 15 to 20 years,” said Dr. Randy DuPont, an associate professor who teaches criminal justice at the University of Tennessee Memphis.

Leaders at several mental health organizations came to the commission meeting to show their support for the plan.

DuPont offered the commissioners an overview of the training officers would need in the coming months.

“We want them to maintain their safety skills. We’re also looking for them to develop new de-escalation skills that will allow them to intervene,” he said.

Acting Police Chief Jeff Godown said he would select an officer to oversee the training, and report next month on the steps needed to implement it.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Comments (2)
  1. Ria Tanz Kubota says:

    I forwarded this to two other people with a background in working “mental health”. We have long mourned and decried people with real existing brain illnesses being furher upset and ‘escalated’ and then being killed.

    This training will make all the difference to everyone. I imagine it doesn’t feel good to know you have killed someone with a brain illness because you didn’t know how to handle the situation skillfully. And, now people in San Francisco at least, will have fewer worries about being killed for being ill. Woo hoo! Good news for all.

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