- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - Alone and confused 19-year-old Craig Tanner wasn’t prepared for the elements when police in Montana released him from custody and into a November winter storm.

Tanner was a sophomore in college at Idaho State University when he first showed signs of schizophrenia.

As he drove away from school toward Montana, Tanner called his parents who immediately understood he wasn’t thinking clearly.

His parents John and Martha Tanner called the police hoping to protect their son. He’d suffered a psychotic break and was arrested.

Martha Tanner said officers at the time, two decades ago, had no idea what to do with Craig so they took him to jail. When the Tanners learned their son was miles from home experiencing things the Tanners couldn’t understand, they tried to get him extradited to Idaho Falls. The police released Craig into a cold, rainy night without the proper clothing or informing the family.

He had no money, was in a psychotic state and began wandering down a state highway.

The Tanners said Craig’s situation is an example of what happens when unprepared law enforcement deals with the mentally ill.

Eventually the Tanners got Craig home where he could receive proper care. Martha Tanner said their experiences spurred her family into pushing law enforcement to be better trained to deal with people having a mental health crisis.

“There are lots of family members who could tell you that’s happened to them,” Tanner said.

The couple are members of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and were instrumental in pushing for improved mental health training for Idaho’s law enforcement, Bonneville County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Samuel Hulse said.

“(They) are powerhouses of advocacy,” Hulse said.

Martha Tanner deflected Hulse’s praise, saying they only made initial contact.

“Our local Sheriff’s Office, they have been heroic beyond most sheriff’s offices in the country,” Tanner said.

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EMPATHY TRAINING

The way law enforcement deals with the mentally ill has come under scrutiny following a spate of officer-involved shootings across the nation. But Hulse said news reports miss the success stories between law enforcement and the public they protect.

“We handle literally hundreds and hundreds of cases where everything went right and we de-escalated the individual and nobody got hurt,” Hulse said.

Hulse said the training he administers to his officers is what stops crises and protects the public. But beyond that, he said empathy with people struggling is the real key to solving these issues.

Hulse hosts a voluntary crisis intervention training every year in April. He said a number of officers participate in the 40-hour training innovated by the Memphis Police Department. The training, called the “Memphis Method” focuses on empathy with those having a mental health crisis.

“We are that piece that brings calm and order to chaos to the level that we can,” Hulse said.

Hulse said the best way to help people in a situation like a suicide threat or state of psychosis is largely just talking it through.

“Sometimes the right answer is jail, sometimes right answer is the hospital,” Hulse said. “But these are not easy problems where you just check a box and we’re good.”

Martha Tanner said she thinks the training has been a success.

“What I noticed is that the law enforcement have wanted to have this training for a very long time,” she said.

Hulse said law enforcement’s primary concern is keeping the public safe. Second is keeping law enforcement safe. And last is protecting the person at hand.

“We want to keep them safe, but we’re not gonna do that at the risk of innocent people or risk of ourselves,” he said.

That’s why Hulse said it’s important to have the necessary stopgaps in place to make sure a crisis doesn’t end with guns pointed at either side. One resource to help combat crisis situations is the Behavioral Health Crisis Center. The $2.1 million facility on Holmes Avenue was funded with $600,000 in one-time federal money and about $1.5 million in state general funds. The state selected Idaho Falls for the pilot project. This spring state lawmakers approved a second mental health crisis center for north Idaho.

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A HELPING HAND

Brenda Price, director of the center, said the state pilot program wouldn’t work without the help of law enforcement.

“I think the more interaction that social services has with law enforcement the better,” Price said.

The center located at 1650 N. Holmes Ave. is open 24 hours a day every day and is always staffed by a Bonneville County Sheriff’s deputy. The walk-in center can be utilized by anyone over the age of 18 who is experiencing a mental health crisis. Price said it is up to law enforcement to decide when is the right time to bring someone in during a crisis.

“Every time law enforcement picks somebody up it’s their judgment call,” she said. “Is it somebody I need to take to jail or is it somebody that will be OK?”

Martha Tanner said she would much rather see people taken to drop-in centers than to jail like her son was.

“These people have got to get the help they need and they’re not going to get that in jail,” Tanner said.

On a recent visit to the center, Mike Dickson, who has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 26 years, was providing security at the center. He said he usually works overtime sitting at the desk but he doesn’t mind. Dickson said the important thing is keeping the center safe.

“You just have to talk to folks, to just be a friend to them,” Dickson said. “All you can do is get them to where they feel comfortable.”

Price said center officials and law enforcement meet monthly to discuss how to better work with each other. She said there is always room for improvement, but since the center’s inception in December, it has proven successful.

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DON’T HIDE, TALK

Hulse said he has gone to countless heart-breaking scenes where a suicide was completed.

“There’s people out there today contemplating taking their own life and what I would say to those people is ‘Don’t give up and talk to somebody,’” Hulse said.

Martha Tanner said since the incident with their son, local law enforcement has taken great leaps in training for these types of circumstances.

“It’s always a tempting to cut the budget of mental health care,” she said. “But if you don’t spend it in the right place it will hurt the most vulnerable.”

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Information from: Post Register, https://www.postregister.com


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