What was their reality?
It may seem an odd question, but as local law enforcement are learning, it can be an important one. This week, Lifeways held a Crisis Intervention Team training for police, parole and corrections personnel about the different ways mental and social disorders can manifest themselves, and how they can better deal with someone having a mental health crisis.
“In the old days we would have just said, ‘He’s just a knucklehead,’” said H. O’Brien, a corrections officer at Two Rivers Correctional Institution, Umatilla, for the last 18 years. “Now, we get to figure out some of the specific things that may be going on.”
O’Brien was one of 22 people from agencies around the county who took the week-long training, which discussed how officers can better understand and deal with a variety of issues, including autism, personality disorders, mental illness in the elderly, de-escalation of people with psychotic disorders, suicidal subjects and addicts.
Officers learned that a person having a mental health crisis may perceive reality differently than those around them.
“What we see doesn’t match up with what they see,” said Nancy Jones-Batch, a Lifeways employee.
On Thursday, the trainees heard from presenters about personality disorders, and about things they might encounter with people on the autism spectrum.
Jones-Batch went over the different clusters of personality disorders — suspicious, anxious, and impulsive/emotional. She talked about how law enforcement might encounter each disorder, how the person may act, and the best way for officers to respond.
A person with antisocial personality disorder, Jones-Batch said, may be involved in anything from a minor incident to a major crime, and may be looking for high stimulation or excitement.
“Your communication should be direct,” she said. “Set up options, and be simple and concise.”
Alternatively, she said a person with a narcissistic personality disorder may have an inflated sense of importance, and get angry when an officer doesn’t give them special treatment.
“They may be over-familiar, or try to establish you as an equal,” Jones-Batch said. She advised officers to be calm and try to talk to the person in a way that shows the mutual benefit of complying with their requests.
Jones-Batch discussed some personality disorders that can be more violent, such as borderline personality disorder. In such a scenario, she said, a person may be angry at getting rejected or betrayed, and officers should speak softly and create a sense of safety for the person, while setting boundaries.
Officers also learned about how these disorders develop.
“Personality disorders are coping strategies to deal with childhood experiences,” she said. “As a result of chaos or abuse and a personality disorder, brain function is altered.”
Trainees also learned about how to deal with people on the autism spectrum in law enforcement situations.
The training was led by Sherri Coronado, who works in law enforcement and has a son on the autism spectrum, and Carlyle King, who was diagnosed with autism at 35. They discussed the different ways autism can show up, and ways people with autism may react when confronted by an officer.
“I have difficulties with visual noise,” King said. “So things like blinking lights get processed as motion.”
If someone on the spectrum gets pulled over, Coronado said, they might be overwhelmed by the sight of flashing lights.
“(The person) may not be able to follow your instructions because there’s too much input from the lights still going on,” she said.
In addition to sensory overload, the two discussed some of the social cues people with autism find difficult. In a crisis, Coronado said, even those who can communicate verbally may have difficulty.
“That’s one of the first things to go,” she said. “You’re not going to be able to communicate with them.”
“There are no particular physical markers,” Coronado said. “But if you know you’re dealing with someone on the spectrum, afford them (courtesy). Calm your voice, your body, your tone and be patient.”
Lifeways has been putting on the crisis intervention team training since 2013. Umatilla Police Lt. Bill Wright, who helps coordinate the training, said it changes a bit from year to year, but the core principles are the same.
In addition to addressing issues they might encounter in their jobs, the training covers how law enforcement officers may be affected by such encounters.
“We talk about resources available for other officers, and making sure we’re watching out for each other,” Wright said.
The course ends with a role-playing exercise, in which trainees will act out some of the scenarios they’ve learned about all week.
“We (role-play) an individual who may be suicidal — that can be really challenging,” said Rachele Burke of Lifeways. “Or how to intervene with someone who is experiencing acute psychosis or mania.”
Some class members said the training helped them feel more comfortable reaching out to mental health services when they have a call for someone in crisis.
“Before, I didn’t know who to contact — I had been relying a hundred percent on dispatch,” said Nick Berg, a Umatilla Tribal Police officer. “Here with this inter-agency training, you learn about the steps you can take.”
Contact Jayati Ramakrishnan at 541-564-4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org