Parents of People With Mental Health Issues Fear Calling 9-1-1

Mar 27, 2014

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  In the wake of two shooting deaths by the Albuquerque Police Department  in two weeks, more families of people living with behavioral health issues are calling for reform of the department’s practices.  But despite recommendations years ago to train all staff on how to deal with people living with mental illness, just a fraction of the workforce has the special training.

Several years ago APD commissioned a report from a Washington think tank that called for dozens of reforms, among them that more personnel, including 9-1-1 operators, be trained in crisis intervention, but APD says just about 10-percent of its workforce have been certified.   The report, compiled by a national group of law enforcement officials, also said APD should back off of its reactive control model when dealing with an armed person.

Joline Gutierrez Kreuger is the mother of a 17-year old with behavioral health issues. She said she has had to call 9-1-1- several times and that police who responded have calmed her child down, but she added, given the recent shootings, she will no longer call because most officers are not properly trained to effectively deal with a bad situation.

You don’t do certain things with a mentally ill person.  You don’t scare them, you don’t startle them, you don’t yell commands at them, you don’t order them on the ground.  You don’t throw flash bangs at them, you don’t sick a dog on them,” Krueger said.

An overwhelming majority of the 37 people shot or killed by APD officers since 2010 were living with mental health issues, which can include drug and alcohol addiction.  Kreuger, who writes for the Albuquerque Journal, has been talking with parents of children and adults in situations like her own.

“I think there’s a greater recognition now, that something is horribly wrong within our police system.”

Kreuger says APD and their middle managers need to meet with parents and behavioral health experts to create effective reform and comprehensive crisis intervention training.