Mandatory Mental Illness Training for all South Carolina Officers

Lack of training as to how to recognize and de-escalate mental health episodes may be one of the most common factors that lead to unnecessary police violence. Over and over, I tell my clients or their families not to call the police when a family member is having a mental health episode because the police will not help. Families or neighbors call the police and expect Officer Friendly to show up, help to calm the person down, and take them to a mental health facility. They don’t understand that police are just as likely to show up, panic or lose their patience, and beat, taser, or shoot the mentally ill person into submission before taking them to jail. Most people don’t believe it will happen until they see it unfold in front of them, and then it is too late.

South Carolina has passed a new law that makes training mandatory “to recognize mental illness and de-escalate confrontations with people who are manic – not malicious.” Although the training is now mandatory, it is not clear if police departments are going to take it seriously. It has been added as a required part of each officer’s additional training required every three years for recertification, including corrections officers. According to the State article, the new law does not specify where or how long the course should be, the legislature provides no funding for the course, and the criminal justice academy is “working with the National Alliance on Mental Health to create the class.” They intend to make it an online course, “which saves money and provides flexibility, academy spokeswoman Florence McCants said.”

If we hop over to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s website, though, it appears that their crisis-intervention course is already available with in-person training, and it costs nothing for law enforcement personnel to attend:

CIT is specialized training that provide law enforcement officers with the skills, tools, and tactics to recognize the signs and symptoms of the major mental illnesses and persons in crisis and to effectively intervene and safely de-escalate the crisis.  The core content of the training includes topics on the major mental illnesses, symptoms and behaviors, and tactical intervention aim at de-escalation.

The SCDMH and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill South Carolina (NAMI SC) have partnered to make CIT and Response to Psychiatric Emergencies training available, at no cost, to all divisions and jurisdictions of law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, communication operators, victim assistance and probation/parole/pardon agents. The training is provided in 2, 4, and 40 hour training classes.

Based on the Academy spokeswoman’s statement, it seems that South Carolina law enforcement is choosing not to take advantage of the free CIT and Response to Psychiatric Emergencies training that is already available, and, instead, they are attempting to put together a new course that will take the least amount of time and effort for officers. Because the law contains no requirements regarding the effectiveness of the training required, South Carolina law enforcement will do as little as they can get away with and still comply with the law. I shouldn’t have to say that “online training” will be considerably less effective than in-person courses involving a live instructor and role-playing exercises.

Why is the lack of training a problem? Many officers react aggressively to a mentally ill subject because:

  1. They don’t know how to handle the situation. Even if they have read about it, they do not have real-time experience in de-escalation. The S.C. Justice Academy and all of the leaders in South Carolina’s law enforcement community are responsible for this.
  2. They don’t care. It is much easier to tase or shoot a person than it is to care, show compassion, and attempt to de-escalate a situation. Why care when your department and state law enforcement leaders don’t care?

The Academy’s response to the new law, announcing the development of a new online course when there are real-time live courses available that cost nothing for law enforcement to attend, shows an institutional, state-wide disregard for the reality of mental health issues in law enforcement. By refusing to address the problem in a meaningful way, the people responsible for making decisions about what training law enforcement receives are also responsible for the unnecessary deaths, injuries, and suffering of both mentally ill persons and the law enforcement officers who do not understand them.

 

One Response to “Mandatory Mental Illness Training for all South Carolina Officers

  • Maybe you should try to do the job or get involved in that side of the job than complaining. The academy is always open to have people come on and work with them. But Like usual someone who has no expierence or understanding likes to open their mouth. Try it for yourself once and see what it’s like. Be involved or shut up. Lawyers like to take the money of the people and complain but don’t do a single thing to help!! They expect the cops to be the solution for everything suppose to be inhuman.

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