By Tracy Manzer, Long Beach Press-Telegram (Long Beach, Calif.)
LONG BEACH, Calif. - Patience, communication and reverence for human life.
Those are the three main objectives in the Long Beach Police Department's new Crisis Intervention Training program, which has been completed by more than two-thirds of the department's field training officers and will be instituted throughout the department within a year, said Lt. Cindy Polly.
While the department has been lauded for its Mental Evaluation Team staff four officers trained to work with the mentally ill who are partnered with mental health clinicians criticisms have been made of training for the department overall.
This year, the department doubled the size of its MET detail, and the LBPD requires more than double the amount of hours of training required by the state for officers who come into contact with the mentally ill.
Chief Anthony Batts decided the department could do more, so he gave Polly and Officer Clint Grimes, LBPD's first MET officer, the challenge to put together a Crisis Intervention Training program that would incorporate the methods used by the Miami Police Department.
While departments across the country use MET or CIT programs, Long Beach will be the first major metropolitan department to incorporate both methods, Polly said.
"A large number of Long Beach's population fit the definition of mentally disabled," the lieutenant said. "But an even greater number of the population falls into the category of people in crisis."
Frank Mullnix, a mental health clinician and Grimes' MET partner, said crises can occur when people go through major changes in their lives and their normal coping mechanisms fail. Marriage, the birth of a child, divorce, becoming a grandparent and losing a loved one can all trigger a crisis, he said.
The majority of these people need help, but because they don't present a clear and obvious danger to themselves and others, police are often limited in what they can do in such situations. That's why about 40 field training officers were put through a weeklong series of scenarios and class work under the new CIT program.
The remaining field training officers will go through the program in February, and all police officers trained by them will be given abbreviated instruction in the new program. All officers in the department are required to update their police training quarterly, and they, too, will go through an abbreviated form of CIT, Polly said.
Scenarios in the program range from the schizophrenic trash digger who hears voices the rest of us can't, to the manic woman who steals groceries from an unsuspecting shopper's cart. And then there are the borderline personality disorders.
"I tell people to picture a boat dock with sailboats parked in all the slips," Grimes said while describing borderline personalities. "Then imagine a powerboat flying through the water and upsetting all the tranquil sailboats."
CIT classes are taught by a battalion of volunteers, including Carla Jacobs who co-authored the state's current 51-50 law (which deals with the mentally ill) and is working on revamping areas of the law that police have found too limiting.
"This is the first time we've asked for people to volunteer with such a program, and we received so many requests we actually had too many," Polly said.
Mental health advocates and professionals lent their expertise to the training and provided real life situations for the field training officers. In one particularly vivid scenario, West Division Patrol Officer Joe Seminara screamed at the top of his lungs at Dr. Esther Lee, a MET clinician, as they played a sometimes violent husband and wife team having a meltdown on a cul de sac.
As officers tried to talk to Seminara amid the din of blaring police radios and the flash of lights, he yelled insults and expletives at Lee as she sat quietly in what was supposed to be Seminara's car. Lee told officers that she was sick of her husband and was going to wreck his truck. Seminara told police that she had threatened him with a knife.
At one point, when an officer asked Seminara how long the two had been married, he shot back, "too long."
What the officers did not know, however, was that no matter how nice or professional they were with Lee, she would never cooperate with them and get out of the car. Several officers tried, using their most understanding and cajoling voices, and all the methods taught to them in training that focuses on compassion, patience and respect.
"How did it make you feel," Grimes asked one veteran after the exercise ended.
"It was frustrating," he laughed. "I wanted to drag her out of the car."
Grimes said that was precisely the point of the exercise; officers, especially new ones who will be trained by the FTOs, need to remember that force is not always an option and there are people who will never cooperate, no matter how much a police officer may want to help.
"(CIT) is going to change the whole culture of the department," Grimes said during a break from training last week. "Because the leadership is taking this program and they will train all the new officers coming in. So what is unusual to some now will become the norm."