VERMONT - Across the State of Vermont, law enforcement officers are provided training to help them incase they are responding to a situation where there is a person with mental health or cognation development issues.
In 2004, The Vermont Attorney Generals office developed Act 80 training for law enforcement, as well as allocating the appropriate amount of funding to that training. This training focuses on preparing officers if they are assisting a situation when theres a mental health crisis is involved. According to ACT 80 funds were to be, “Appropriated to the Office of Attorney General (funds) to establish a training program for law enforcement officers in their interactions with persons exhibiting mental health conditions.”
Lia Ernst, an attorney and public advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offices in Montpelier says, the training is a step in the right direction. “As hard as it is to say and hear, present day [people with cognitive or mental health issues] are not adequately protected. Act 80 is a step in the right direction.”
Ernst also mentioned that case based scenario training may be a better way to train than the current training in place. The Burlington Police department has recently piloted this training idea. “Focusing too much on training law enforcement officers could also be potentially problematic,” says Ernst. “Because officers shouldn’t be expected to be and shouldn’t perceive themselves as mental health professionals.”
The Crime Research Group (CRG) in Montpelier developed a survey to give to police officers via Survey Monkey.
One of their findings about how the training can be improved, was that experience would be more beneficial than just training. “The instruction from Field Training Officers and the Act 80 Training were reported to be the least influential. With that said, it is important to note that nearly 40% of officers reported that the Act 80 Training was Very Influential or Influential in helping them learn how to handle mental health calls – it’s just that training is not as influential as experience.”
According to Lia Ernst, The Act 80 advisory group contacted the crime research group to take a look at the survey results from officers who have had the training. One of their findings was that officers were saying when they were asked about what their influence has been in developing their technique in handling mental health issues, the officers reported very low in their influence being Act 80 training.
The CRG also says that the, “officers assessment of the training’s influence tends to diminish over time.” The more recent graduates of the training are more influential than those who were trained several years ago.
The CRG included in their report what the response was from officers who responded to a call where someone had a developmental or cognitive issue. Ninety- four percent of officers responded that they had come across an individual who experienced cognitive issues.
Shay Totten is a father and an advocate for police being trained to respond to situations where adults with special needs and mental illness are involved. Totten has been working with his local police in Burlington on the issue and shares pamphlets with officers that were created by GEAR Parent Network, out of Maine. One pamphlet is for families and the other is for police, but both have to do with when an individual is having a mental health crisis, or if the individual has a disability preventing them from understanding the law normally.
Northeast Kingdom Human Services (NKHS) spearheads training in the Northeast Kingdom. Laurie-Anne Couture, the daytime Emergency Clinician for Orleans County and the northern half of Essex County, helps assist in training law enforcement to work respond to a scene where a mental health crisis is happening.
NKHS has a “specialty team” that provides mental health assistance when law enforcement officers may be dealing with someone having a mental health issue. According to Couture, Law Enforcement officials will call NKHS staff, “to meet in a safe area and when the scene is deemed to be safe they will ask mental health staff to respond.”
Additionally they provide something they call “team two” training, where Law Enforcement officials and Mental Health Counselors are encouraged to collaborate. Couture says this is to ensure there’s a better understanding of how to work together in cases where a mental health crisis occurs.
Couture explains that during these trainings groups review possible scenarios, discuss safety issues, clinical observations, and legal parameters. She says she wants to, “open dialogue among first responders and help gain insight into how each other works and hopefully this will assist everybody in working better in the future.”
The next training takes place on November 16th at NVRH in St. Johnsbury. Couture says it’s a day long training for officers.