The one-day conference will help police respond in volatile situations
If Minneapolis Police officers had been trained six years ago in dealing with mental health crisis situations, Mark Anderson believes Southwest resident Barbara Schneider might still be alive.
In June 2000, police responded to a noise complaint at Schneider's Southwest apartment building. Schneider, a bright woman with two master's degrees and an activist who worked for social justice, was in a crisis precipitated by bipolar disorder. Six police officers entered the apartment and found the 49-year-old Schneider holding a knife. Unaware that she had a mental illness, and untrained to deal with the call as a mental health crisis, the officers shot and killed Schneider when she refused to drop the knife and advanced toward them.
“Even though they knew she was in distress, they didn't understand what the appropriate response would be,” Anderson said.
Anderson and other organizers of the Barbara Schneider Foundation, formed shortly after the woman's death to advocate for mental health crisis training, are working to change that. The Southwest organization has worked closely with the Minneapolis Police Department since Schneider's death and on Feb. 27 will host the first Minnesota Crisis Intervention Training Conference.
The one-day conference will provide law enforcement officers, health-care workers, judicial system employees and other stakeholders from around the state with the opportunity to learn about crisis-intervention training (CIT). The conference will emphasize how individuals from all of these sectors can work together to improve the response to mental health crisis situations.
“We want to build a better collaborative effort,” Anderson said.
CIT teaches officers what mental illness is and what it looks like, how to de-escalate a dangerous situation, and the body language and techniques they should use while responding to a mental health crisis.
The conference will feature presentations on CIT, the overlap of mental health and public safety response, and communication and de-escalation skills. Breakout sessions also will include information about combat stress, traumatic brain injury, and responding to childhood and adolescent disorders.
But the conference's main event will be role-playing sessions during which professional actors will be on hand to simulate more than 30 mental health crisis scenarios. Law enforcement officers will respond to the simulated scenario and attempt to calm the actor - who will be playing an individual in a mental health crisis - using CIT techniques. Facilitators can interrupt the action at any time to offer suggestions or correct actions, Anderson said, providing a valuable tool for officers and other stakeholders in learning how to react during a volatile situation.
“When officers go into the role-play room, they're given the type of information they would normally get in a dispatch, which is usually pretty sketchy information,” said Anderson, who has served as the executive director of the Barbara Schneider Foundation since 2003. “The officer has to think, ‘How can we get the person out of the dangerous situation they've gotten themselves into?'”
The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD), which has 100 officers on its Crisis-Intervention Team, helped organize the event. Officer Paul Gillies, who was in the Minneapolis Police Department's first CIT class in 2001 and now is the unit's coordinator, said the program has worked well. The Minneapolis Police Department's CIT program was the first in the state, and last year, a number of MPD officers went to the first national CIT conference in Columbus, Ohio.
“We got a lot of new information there,” Gillies said, “And we're willing to pass it along.”
The conference will be held at the Holiday Inn Select in Bloomington. For more information, contact Anderson at 801-8572.