- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

PENDLETON, Ore. (AP) - The woman ran into the convenience store, yelling that her baby was dying. She clutched the child in a blanket.

A police officer asked to see the infant.

“No, you’re going to kill my baby,” she yelled. “You’re going to take my baby away from me.”

The woman released a string of profanities and a long, piercing scream. As she did, the blanket lifted slightly to reveal the infant’s plastic face. The baby was a doll.

Not to worry. The schizophrenic woman was really an actress helping officers practice what they had learned at Crisis Intervention Team training in Hermiston, Pendleton and Umatilla.

Like it or not, law enforcement officers often find themselves as front line responders for people in mental health crises. The situations can be dicey. The person might be suicidal, psychotic or delusional. Occasionally, the situations end with deadly force.

About 13 local law enforcement officers from eight agencies, plus several other participants, took crisis intervention training designed to teach them to use words and negotiation skills instead of handcuffs, Tasers and guns. A role-playing session at McNary Place in Umatilla offered numerous scenarios in various rooms inside the state mental health facility.

A woman enters a doctor’s office and demands pills, threatening the staff and hallucinating. A psychotic teen acts violently in class. A 15-year-old girl sobs, slumping against the wall after a breakup. An autistic young adult walks dangerously into a high-traffic area.

In another scenario, an elderly man sat on a park bench in winter, wearing flip-flops, sleeveless shirt and foil on his head and sharing imaginary beers with imaginary friends.

Senior Trooper Dan Chichester of the Oregon State Police crouched down by the man asking questions in soothing tones and staying out of his direct line of view. Eventually, he talked him into a ride home in a police cruiser.

After the five-minute role play, observer Hal Schaeffer gave his critique. Schaeffer is administrator of the brand-new Pendleton Creek Crisis Recovery Center across from the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.

Schaeffer praised Chichester for getting down to the woman’s level, instead of towering over her, and letting her guide the conversation as he gently reeled her in.

“You have to induce calm,” he said. “You’re looking for connections. You’re trying to find a way in.”

In earlier sessions, they had heard speakers broach an array of topics: psychosis, personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, developmental disabilities, addiction, de-escalation techniques, suicide by cop and others.

In one session, the participants donned ear buds and discovered what it was like to have voices in their heads. Instructor Joleen Pruett-Mitchell, a registered nurse at McNary Place, directed her students to answer test questions and remember a collection of items they had viewed on a table.

The voices were sometimes murmurs, sometimes whispers, interspersed with yelling and white noise. Many of the words were angry and degrading.

“It’s like having the mean girls in school follow you around all the time,” Mitchell said. “All day, every day.”

Participants’ attentions drifted as they tried to ignore the voices.

These officers will eventually become members of crisis intervention teams. The idea, said Carol Speed of the Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc. (GOBHI), is to get a crisis intervention team up and running in Umatilla County.

“This is the starting phase,” she said.

She said CIT training is catching on. Jackson County, for instance, requires every officer to go through the program.

Sgt. Bill Wright of the Umatilla Police Department participated in this week’s CIT training, although he took his original training last fall in Clackamas. Wright said he used his the knowledge almost immediately, dealing with a paranoid schizophrenic who was hearing voices and acting aggressively.

“Before, I might have arrested him for disorderly conduct and taken him to jail,” Wright said. “That wasn’t the proper place for him. He needed help.”

After the role playing, the students took a test and graduated in a ceremony at the Umatilla Fire Hall.

This was a joint project. GOBHI financed and organized the event. McNary Place employees served as actors during the scenarios and Lifeways employees provided critiques. Umatilla and Athena police departments coordinated some sessions and Umatilla County Community Corrections provided a bus for site visits.

___

Information from: East Oregonian, http://www.eastoregonian.info

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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